Tag Archives: horizon league basketball

Cleveland State’s Slow, Steady Social Media Burn

In years past, the Cleveland State men’s basketball team has been up and down in terms of its social media presence. The most glaring example of this shortcoming was the disappearance of former coach Gary Waters from Twitter, which oddly coincided with a number of coaching departures in 2015.

In fact, the only thing that made that situation worse for Waters was the emergence of the Evil Gary Waters parody account in summer 2016. And like all good parody accounts, this one went to work quickly on all things Cleveland State. To the detriment of CSU, Evil Gary’s popularity only grew as the Vikings slogged through a 9-22 campaign.

So when Dennis Felton took over for the retiring Waters in late March, the bar was set pretty low on the social media front. But even with the low bar, you could tell there was going to be some pressure to get up to speed, especially with fellow Horizon League coaches getting a big jump ahead of him.

But an interesting thing started happening in the middle of the summer. Social media with CSU athletics, which has been marked by highs (like lacrosse coach Dylan Sheridan’s Twitter feed) and lows (the aforementioned Waters disappearance) started getting on the same page.

And while coaches like Sheridan and women’s basketball coach Kate Peterson Abiad have always been active, it has been men’s basketball that has always seemed to lag behind them.

Felton and his staff, it appears, are looking to change that in a big way. And Cleveland State is naturally on board.

The change has never been more striking than on Felton’s Twitter feed. Previously, many of his posts have included quotations from coaching greats or thoughts on the NBA, of which he spent three years as the Director of Player Personnel with the San Antonio Spurs.

Now, he’s leaned into CSU, lending support to not only men’s basketball, but all Vikings sports, as well as various Viking-centric ventures that have included contributing a jersey to Bryan Black’s 351 Jerseys for Hope campaign to raise awareness for epilepsy.

For athletics as a whole, CSU has made a huge push to get votes for Magnus during Mid-Major Madness’ Mascot Melee, which has pushed the Viking mascot to the Elite Eight, at last count.

Video has been playing a huge role in the summer social media blitz as well. For its part, Cleveland State has made Felton the star of a weekly video series, aptly titled Fridays with Felton.

And then there was the Drive-By Dunk Challenge.

With the sounds of George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, who Felton is a huge fan of, he and three players, senior Anthony Wright, sophomore Evan Clayborne and freshman Tyree Appleby (a Twitter must-follow in his own right) chronicled their journey to Westlake to take part in the dunking on driveway hoops.

Felton has even been spotted on the live-video platform Periscope, setting up a feed during his autograph-signing session at a Lake County Captains game.

Since his hire, Felton has made multiple overtures that he wants to shake things up and perhaps surprise some people with his team’s performance on the court. While we won’t know about how Felton’s influence will translate in the win-loss column until the season starts, the recent social media efforts have indeed been a pleasant surprise.

At the very least, Felton, along with the rest Cleveland State athletics, have recognized that a change was sorely needed to find some footing in an already-crowded Cleveland sports landscape for its signature program.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via Cleveland State Athletics

To the Cleveland State Class of 2021: Follow Athletics (If You’re Not Too Distracted)

Dear incoming Cleveland State freshmen:

As I’ve made it a general practice of doing over the last three years, I’d like to welcome you to my alma mater. No doubt the college experience…

Oh, I’m sorry. I see some of you were stuck at the Parking department’s Web site fighting for parking passes like it was Thunderdome. That feeling is never going away. But take heart in the fact you didn’t have only three dirt lots to park in like I did.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. I’m usually the guy who tries to remind you in vain that Athletics is part of the money you pay to CSU every semester.

Oh, wait. I see we’re still on the parking thing. I’m seeing a lot of you out there are tweeting like mad about this whole situation. Maybe now isn’t the best time to mention that Cleveland State is looking at private companies to run the parking operation.

I’m very sorry. I didn’t mean to throw another log on the fire there. I wanted to talk about athletics, especially the men’s basketball program. For the first time in a long time, you will be joined in your first year by Dennis Felton, who is also beginning his tenure as head coach.

And of course he’s brought in some new students as well. A few of them, Shawn Christian, Stefan Kenic and Tyree Appleby, are freshmen like yourself.

Plus, since it appears that some of you are into Twitter, you probably want to follow Christian and Appleby, especially Appleby, who’s already said the Vikings will make the NCAA Tournament this season.

But I see another Twitter discussion is going on. What’s this about? A new fee for career services? Well, maybe they can finally hire me, then. Or not.

I’m off track again. What I wanted to say is that since you paid into athletics already, the big advantage of that is you get into all sporting events for free. That’s not a bad deal in the fall, seeing as how CSU has the defending Horizon League volleyball team starting up again, not to mention men’s and women’s soccer.

What’s that? There’s another Cavs ticket giveaway going on across all of Cleveland State’s social media platforms? And everybody is falling over themselves to get them? It’s not for a game on the same night as a CSU basketball game, is it? That would be rather awkward.

But enough about that. The important thing is that for years, Cleveland State has dedicated a section of the Wolstein Center to students. Currently dubbed Viking Village, you can go and cheer on both men’s and women’s teams for absolutely free. In fact, I’m sure that student leaders as we speak are devising ways to get more students involved.

And I have the utmost confidence that student leaders a totally not be worried about who’s coming in to replace Ronald Berkman as CSU’s president; not even a little bit.

Look, I get it. It’s a whole new world out there for a lot of you. And I’d be lying if I said there weren’t going to be times where Cleveland State makes you completely nuts, because there will be. Believe me. I’ve been exactly where you are.

And it’s because I’ve been where you are, I can say this. Even though you will probably curse CSU to the high heavens no less than a half-dozen times (and I’m being very conservative here), at the end of the day, this will still be your alma mater. You will always be connected to Cleveland State, as a student and as an alumni, whether you like it or not. Make the most of it.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @bobmcdonald.

Image via Cleveland State University

Departures, Arrivals and Uncertainty Shake Horizon League Fans

If you are a fan of a Horizon League member school and expected to have a rather boring off-season, you have probably been surprised.

Realistically, there wasn’t supposed to be much going on, aside from Cleveland State and Youngstown State, which each hired new basketball coaches.

But as it has been with mid-major conferences across the country, the Horizon League found itself in the riptide of change elsewhere.

That elsewhere turned out to be the Missouri Valley Conference, which itself was a part of a snowball that started rolling when the American Athletic Conference invited Wichita State to come aboard. The MVC, in turn, decided it was a school short and looked around for somebody to invite.

For Valparaiso, it became an opportunity to leave the Horizon League. For the remaining schools, it became a time to panic, at least as far as scrambling around to fill the scheduling holes were concerned.

Realistically, the conference didn’t need to really do anything, given how late in the school year it was when Valpo left. The Horizon League still has nine school, and even commissioner Jon LeCrone, when talking about conference expansion in a video conference, did not appear to have a sense of urgency to add another member by the start of July.

So it was curious to find rumblings of the addition of a new school started to grow louder, with fans speculating on a wide range of possibilities, from Robert Morris to Grand Canyon, the latter intimating a westward shift for the conference if it happened.

In the end, however, LeCrone, with the unanimous approval of the Horizon League’s presidents and chancellors, invited IUPUI, in what only can be described as the basketball equivalent of trading a cow for some magic beans.

You can cut through the entire PR spiel about the virtues of IUPUI, and you can certainly go ahead and avert your eyes from the presentation that IUPUI apparently broke out in support of its bid. The league absolutely could have waited a year to expand. And it didn’t.

The good news is that for teams that were slated to struggle at the bottom of the basketball standings next year, congratulations, you have competition. The Jaguars were a meager 14-18 overall and 7-9 in the Summit League, capping the season off by getting hammered at the conference tournament, 90-62, by Omaha.

And next year doesn’t look all that promising, either, losing their top three scorers, Darell Combs, Matt O’Leary and Kellon Thomas, to graduation. In fact, IUPUI hasn’t been a factor since Ron Hunter left for Georgia State.

The only real benefit to IUPUI’s arrival would be that once the agreement with Olympia Entertainment ends, the Horizon League can look into moving the men’s and women’s basketball tournament to Indianapolis, the conference’s home base. Then again, this could have already happened, but clearly Olympia’s pitch to have the tourney in Detroit was too great a pull.

Beyond hoops, the move throws an even bigger question mark on the Horizon League’s commitment to baseball. With Valparaiso out, the conference is now left with only six schools that sponsor the sport. And with no clear urgency on the Horizon League’s part to address that concern, fans of the remaining baseball teams are left to wonder if their school should be seeking an associate membership elsewhere.

After all of this, you have to wonder what’s in the cards for the Horizon League in the future. LeCrone’s idea of expansion still appears steadfast, but what schools would that include? Does he go west and invite Grand Canyon and New Mexico State? Or does he stick close and bring Robert Morris and Fort Wayne into the fold?

No matter what happens, fans are hoping than anything is better than the current situation.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via Wikipedia

There Is No Cleveland State-Youngstown State Rivalry. And There May Never Be.

It’s almost like that scene in the movie “Mean Girls” where Regina George snaps at Gretchen Weiners tell her to stop trying to make the word fetch a thing.

Ever since Youngstown State entered the Horizon League in 2001, much to the consternation of literally every fan in the conference, there was always the hope that somehow, some way, the Penguins, perennial underachievers in basketball, would finally right the ship.

Meanwhile, Cleveland State, after toiling in sub-mediocrity, did turn things around during the height of the Gary Waters era.

Had YSU gotten its act together during the tenure of Jerry Slocum, the battle between the two schools would have been rife for a natural rivalry. It made sense. Cleveland and Youngstown’s geographic proximity could have made it a cinch.

But it never happened. That heated feud between the two schools has failed to present itself.

Now, Slocum and Waters, who consistently butted heads when they roamed their respective sidelines, are gone. And at least one of their replacements seems to be making a concerted effort to goad the other into action.

And still, no luck in getting a rivalry going.

YSU tabbed Division II runner-up coach Jerrod Calhoun as Slocum’s successor, while CSU opted for ex-Western Kentucky and Georgia coach Dennis Felton. Calhoun built a success at Fairmont State, while Felton opted to spend time with the San Antonio Spurs after his departure from Georgia, then returned to the college ranks as part of the Tulsa coaching staff.

Despite their resumes, Calhoun has a sizable advantage in terms of his connections to Northeast Ohio, particularly as a former Cleveland State player under Rollie Massimino. Theoretically, that should have given Calhoun an edge in the CSU coaching search.

Cleveland State athletic director Mike Thomas, however, seemed to think otherwise and hired Felton.

With Calhoun chosen to lead YSU, it seems that he has been focusing a great deal on what should be Cleveland State’s backyard.

And Thursday, Calhoun hit closer to CSU’s home than ever.

This time, it was Waters himself, along with noted Viking alum D’Aundray Brown, who came to the Youngstown State campus and speak with Calhoun’s players.

And it is in this instance that we may all now lay to rest any silly notion that a rivalry between Cleveland State and YSU exists or, more to the point, will ever exist.

Give Calhoun credit, of course, for trying the jumpstart things a little. But it’s clear that Felton isn’t biting.

But more than that, rivalry discussion can be dismissed by the mere reaction, or rather lack thereof, from the remaining CSU fans. If Youngstown State were such bitter rivals, conventional wisdom would tell you that the Viking faithful would be incensed.

No such reaction really came. For some, in fact, the entire event was dismissed outright, as if it was much ado about nothing.

Perhaps that indifference really speaks to the long-festering root of Cleveland State’s issues with apathy and complacency. And this massive problem may be the primary reason why this potential rivalry never really gotten off the ground.

That’s not to say that YSU has been just as apathetic over the years, as the long drag of subpar basketball has certainly a contributing factor. What’s been CSU’s excuse? And while Calhoun appears to have recognized the hills he will have to climb to sell his program, what will Felton come up with to address the same issue?

While it’s early to determine whether Calhoun’s sprint out the gate or Felton’s marathon-like pace will produce results on the court, off the court, the feud that should be clamored for has not really materialized.

And at this point, the prospects remain dim that it ever will.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Will Lacrosse Pass Basketball as Cleveland State’s Premier Sport? Maybe.

Perhaps John Parry was right after all.

The now-retired athletic director at Cleveland State had, for years, indicated a desire to bring his most-cherished sport, lacrosse, to campus. And he made that dream a reality in 2015, when he announced that CSU would start up a men’s team.

Of course, that announcement will be mostly remembered for Parry’s faux pas in attempting to defund the wrestling program, which, thanks to an outpouring of community support, didn’t happen.

While the two-year ramp-up to the launch of the men’s lacrosse program was going on, men’s basketball was heading in a far different direction. Head coach Gary Waters watched as his team, which had won 20 games in the 2014-15 season, slowly disintegrate.

Many have pointed to the departure of Waters’ key stars, Trey Lewis and Anton Grady, who became graduate transfers and left for the brighter lights and bigger crowds of more prominent programs. But the graduate transfers were only part of the slow decline.

Waters also found himself losing other key players, including Kaza Keane and Andre Yates. And his recruiting classes, from 2014 on, couldn’t pick up the slack as well as some of Waters’ previous classes had. As a result, the Vikings lost more than 20 games two years in a row, and whatever fan enthusiasm and media attention was left was stamped out.

Lacrosse, on the other hand, went into full guerilla marketing mode both prior to the start of the season and throughout the year. While Parry was certainly a visible figure, the heavy lifting was done by Dylan Sheridan. The first-year head coach leveraged his network (both social media and otherwise) to get the word out about his new squad.

And while the men’s basketball team continued to sputter during the 2016-17 campaign, the lacrosse squad, which was filled almost entirely with freshmen, seemed to grow stronger.

Of course, the lacrosse team didn’t have much of a choice, given that Sheridan loaded the schedule with some of the toughest competition in the country, including Duke, Denver (Sheridan’s former school) and Ohio State, the national runner-up.

Even the off-seasons for both teams seemed to split off. Waters opted for retirement and his replacement, former Western Kentucky and Georgia coach Dennis Felton, hit the recruiting trail. Sheridan spent his early off-season barnstorming, even making an appearance on the NCAA lacrosse tournament’s broadcast.

Going into next season, it appears that on the surface, lacrosse is much better positioned for a leap in the ranks, given its core of underclassmen with a year under their belt. Basketball, in spite of having six seniors on the team, look more and more like a program that is back in rebuilding mode, thanks to transfer of its top scorer, Rob Edwards, along with a half-dozen other players.

With its considerably lower overhead and a big head-start in bridging the enthusiasm gap, it’s a safe bet that Sheridan and his squad will continue to build program momentum and take advantage of the niche men’s lacrosse has in the national collegiate landscape. And local media has even started to take notice, as evidenced by the team’s appearance on WJW’s morning show in the spring.

As Sheridan continues his sales pitch, Felton, on the other hand, already has an uphill climb. Basketball’s fan base has dwindled to practically nothing, thanks to consecutive losing seasons and the draw of the Cavaliers. Exacerbating this is CSU’s long-standing problem of trying to appeal to target audiences (students, in particular) that clearly don’t seem interested.

Strange as it sounds, the dynamics between the two teams seems to favor the upstart efforts of lacrosse. And as a result, Sheridan and his crew could very well surpass Felton and his squad as the most prominent Cleveland State sport.

That may not have been Parry’s intention when he drew up the plans to bring lacrosse to CSU, but it may very well end up that way.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Recruits top priority for new Milwaukee Panther head coach Pat Baldwin

The Milwaukee Panthers named Northwestern assistant Pat Baldwin to be its head men’s basketball coach on Tuesday. Baldwin is considered an excellent recruiter and a key to Northwestern’s 2016 NCAA Tournament bid, the first in program history. He replaces LaVall Jordan, who left Milwaukee after one season to become the head coach at his alma mater Butler.

Baldwin steps into an unusual situation in Milwaukee. The late hiring of Chris Holtmann at Ohio State, and as a result the very late hiring of Jordan at Butler, was unusual enough as is. The fact that Jordan posted a 11-24 record in his only season at Milwaukee before heading to the Big East made it even more bizarre. Despite replacing a coach who left for greener pastures, expectations shouldn’t be particularly high for Baldwin early in his tenure.

As is frequently the case during coaching changes, Baldwin’s biggest task out of the gate will be to retain members of the incoming recruiting class. Dylan Alderson, who helped bring Clarkston High School a Michigan Class A State Championship as a senior, is considered the prize recruit of Milwaukee’s recruiting class. To this point, he hasn’t said anything definitive either way about his plans for the future.

Unlike former Butler-commit Kyle Young — a composite Top 100 recruit who left for Ohio State when Chris Holtmann departed — it’s unlikely that Milwaukee has a recruit that will follow LaVall Jordan to the Big East. Despite even the high praise for Alderson, the jump from Milwaukee to Butler is a lot bigger now than it was in the not-so-distant past when the two schools were together in the Horizon League. 

If Milwaukee is going to lose a recruit, it would most likely be to another school the Panthers were recruiting against previously. While losing a coach in June causes a number of logistical problems for a program, it can make holding onto recruits simpler. In that regard, time could be on Milwaukee’s side when it comes to holding together this year’s recruiting class. At this point, most schools’ rosters are set and there simply isn’t enough time or roster availability for most kids to reopen recruitment.

If Baldwin is able to keep all of Jordan’s recruits in Milwaukee, he could be in for a pleasantly surprising debut as a head coach. The Panthers lose just one starter and one reserve from 2016-17 while bringing in what looks to be a very promising four-man recruiting class and 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman Zac Saddler.

Early projections still have Milwaukee near the bottom of conference for the upcoming season, which is understandable given the team’s eight regular season wins and its 10th place finish in the Horizon League last year. Still, there could be reason for optimism in Milwaukee. 

The Panthers had one of the youngest teams in the nation and possessed very little front court depth. While an injury to Valparaiso star Alec Peters undoubtedly helped, Milwaukee came together at the end of the season on its way to an unexpected Horizon League Tournament Championship Game. If the Panthers can build off of the late-season success, they could make one of the bigger jumps in the league standings in 2017-18. 

The development of returning players and addition of five newcomers could put Pat Baldwin’s Milwaukee team in a position to finish near the middle of the table in the Horizon League. While that might not seem like a big deal, especially for a school that was in the running to be bumped up to the Missouri Valley Conference this offseason. But the Panthers will once again have an incredibly young roster. Forward Brett Prahl is the only scholarship senior, leaving the door open for another potential jump in 2018-19.

Email John and [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jjparker084.

Photo by: Milwaukee Panthers Athletics

The Disgruntled Cleveland State Fan’s Guide to Finding a New Team to Root For

When you take over a program that already had trouble with transfers, not to mention a serious problem with visibility, perhaps it’s not the best plan to, I don’t know, disappear off the planet?

But that appears to be what new Cleveland State basketball coach Dennis Felton has done, though to be fair, it’s not like he exactly had a choice. Without a coaching staff officially in place, Felton has had to scramble around the country trying to secure recruits for the spring signing period.

Of course, Felton may already have former Northern Illinois assistant Lou Dawkins hired. But it’s really hard to know if that’s official, given that the only indication the hire has happened is from a few tweets, most notably from Garfield Heights High School coach Sonny Johnson.

It may not be fair to Felton, but back-to-back 20-loss seasons, a non-existent fan base and a media landscape with the attention span of a newt should have sparked some sense of urgency. The wait-and-see approach was probably not going to be the best plan.

Instead, Cleveland State decided to do what it does every single off-season, as if somebody didn’t get the memo that Gary Waters retired.

So, in effect, the institution that incentivized the heck out of Felton with six figures worth of bonuses if he performs well saddled him with the same game plan that really didn’t excite anybody inside or outside campus. This basically guarantees that nobody will care what happens to the Vikings this season, unless Felton somehow goes rogue and starts promoting out of the circle of apathy he currently finds himself in.

And with Rob Edwards officially deciding to transfer to Arizona State, the glimmer of a true star has faded away, leaving Felton with a gaggle of role players (save for Kash Thomas and, potentially, Shawn Christian), as well as unknown spring signees.

With yet another year’s worth of unknowns concerning the basketball program and a university that has proven itself completely incapable of drawing and sustaining the attention of anybody to its crown jewel, fans may very well be at their wit’s end with Cleveland State.

And that might mean finding another college hoops team to root for, if you’ve gotten to that breaking point. So, as always, I’m here to help. Here are some potential new schools.

Ohio State

I start with the obvious one, mostly because if you’re a Cleveland State student, you’re already paying way more attention to OSU than the school you actually attend. As far as basketball is concerned, though, this may be a trap. The Buckeyes have been pretty mediocre the last few seasons, to the extent that there’s a legitimate debate as to how much longer Thad Matta will remain as coach. That said, you probably own all kinds of Ohio State gear, so you do you.

Youngstown State

Don’t look now, but Youngstown State has decided it cares about men’s basketball. That much was clear when the Penguins tapped Fairmont State’s Jerrod Calhoun as its new head coach. Calhoun, of course, was widely thought to be a favorite for the CSU gig. But since that didn’t happen, Calhoun is making it his mission to convince Northeast Ohio prep stars to forgo downtown Cleveland and make the trek to the Mahoning Valley. And let’s not forget YSU still has All-Horizon League star Cameron Morse, who scores in bunches.

Kent State

Last year was supposed to be a down year for Kent State, and the Golden Flashes still won 20 games and made it to the NCAA Tournament. Coach Rob Senderoff will be looking to expound on his success from this past season. And even better news, if you’re an active reader of Cleveland.com, Kent State will actually get coverage! The only down side is that the MAC Center is kind of a hike and parking is a nightmare.

Akron

Like Kent State, Akron benefits from Cleveland.com caring about what the Zips do. And it may be quite a bit, seeing as how longtime head coach Keith Dambrot has left for Duquesne. Replacing him was another name that was tossed about during the Cleveland State coaching search, John Groce. It’s probably going to be a rebuilding year for Akron, but at least it will get people’s attention.

John Carroll

If you’ve had it with Division I basketball, you might as well take a look at one of the most successful Division III schools in the area, John Carroll University. Ask Kentucky’s John Calipari about the Blue Streaks, whose player rotation he emulated a few years back. And while legendary head coach Mike Moran has retired, he is being replaced by assistant coach Pete Moran. As a former player (not to mention Mike’s son), the younger Moran will carry his father’s work forward into the future.

If putting together a list of teams to follow instead of Cleveland State is harsh, particularly to those who continue to preach patience, this is where we’re at. It’s almost as if athletics has decided it’s not worth the work to actively seek out new fans, even though the additional revenue would make it look like the program isn’t cool with sponging off of students.

And you’re not off the hook, either, students. In fact, with every passing year, you look more like suckers. Why? Because you spend more money per year on average on something you don’t care about (athletics) than something you go out of your way to complain about everyday (parking)!

The off-season doesn’t mean CSU get to take April through October off promoting men’s basketball, but from an outsider’s point of view, that’s exactly what it looks like.

Listen to the angry fans, for once. And maybe you can start to right the ship.

Email bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via Cleveland State University

NCAA Championship Announcements Bring Excitement, Confusion to Cleveland State

It’s pretty clear that when it comes to hosting sporting events, the NCAA likes Cleveland’s style.

Having hosted multiple men’s and women’s basketball tournament rounds and gearing up for the 2018 wrestling championships, there was little doubt that Cleveland State, in collaboration with the MAC and the Cleveland Sports Commission, would bid for more.

The good news is that the NCAA has obliged, announcing that the 2020 opening rounds of the men’s basketball tournament will be hosted at Quicken Loans Arena. Also, men’s and women’s fencing will make its way to the Wolstein Center in 2019 for its championships, as will Division II wrestling, with nearby Ashland University serving as the host.

While this is obviously good news for the city, which continues to raise its profile in terms of hosting events, the Wolstein Center bids in particular should raise at least a question or two at CSU.

But first, let it not be said that the NCAA is without a sense of irony, awarding Cleveland State the championships of a sport (fencing) that far and away receives the least amount of funding in the athletics budget.

The source of the questions resides within the Wolstein Center itself. The debate over the arena’s future has raged on for years, and it appeared that there might be some movement. As recently as September, CSU was taking bids that would replace the Wolstein Center with a smaller arena, coupled with dormitory that would house up to 1,000 students.

With that kind of activity going on, you’d think that Cleveland State would be well on its way to making this upcoming basketball season that last one at the Wolstein Center.

And yet, the arena that costs CSU at least $1 million per year in losses will be around at least until the end of the fencing championships.

You must wonder how this conversation went between athletic director Mike Thomas and president Ronald Berkman.

Thomas: Dr. Berkman, I’ve got great news! Cleveland State is hosting the opening rounds of the men’s basketball tournament at the Q in 2020!

Berkman: Outstanding, even though I’m not really sure they’ll be done with their renovations by then. Oh well. I’ll let Len Komoroski figure that one out. We get anything else?

Thomas: As a matter of fact, we did. We’re going to have the Division II Wrestling championships at the Wolstein Center, plus men’s and women’s fencing.

Berkman: Fencing, fencing. Isn’t that one of our sports?

Thomas: Well, yeah, but we don’t give them much to run it.

Berkman: Oh, okay. When is that all taking place?

Thomas: 2019.

Berkman: That will be a nice way to send me off into retirement…Wait a second, I thought we were going to knock down the Wolstein Center.

Thomas: I guess you were, but there was this note on my desk from John Parry that I originally thought was list of sports to cut. Fencing was on there and it said 2019, so I guessed that’s when he wanted to cut it. I’m not changing anything, so I threw it away three weeks ago.

Berkman: Well, great. Now I have to tell the architect to hold off on the building plans and see if a megachurch will rent the arena out as a back-up. Thanks a lot!

While I’m sure the actual conversation between Berkman and Thomas went a little differently, the glee that is being publicly displayed by CSU amid the NCAA announcement has to be tempered by a bit of trepidation. After all, Berkman really, really wanted to do something with the Wolstein Center before he retired, and now he’s not going to get that chance.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image courtesy of Cleveland State University

Rob Edwards Should Stay at Cleveland State

Typically when a player requests a release from his scholarship to seek out possible transfer opportunities, it’s usually the last a school will ever see of him. Cleveland State has lived through this all too many times, not just with recent graduate transfers, but with others who felt the grass was greener on the other side.

In fact, transfers are, for the most part, a way of life in college basketball these days. But if you believe the narrative, this phenomena has affected the Vikings far more than other mid-major programs.

So, you can understand the apprehension associated with the recent announcement that Rob Edwards asked to be released from his scholarship at CSU. The second-team All-Horizon League guard and Cleveland State’s leading scorer is looking for the right fit. And with the recent hire of Dennis Felton as head coach, Edwards may be of the opinion that he would be better served playing elsewhere.

And while he hasn’t made his decision final, Viking fans have all but resided themselves to life without Edwards. Naturally, the more pessimistic members of the fanbase don’t like CSU’s prospects next year, even with seven seniors on the roster.

But there is a possibility, albeit remote, that Edwards could see what’s out there and believe that Cleveland State is, in fact, where he should stay. And there are plenty of reasons out that could serve to bolster a compelling argument that would convince Edwards to remain a Viking.

First, and most importantly, is that by rule, transfers must sit out a year before playing a minute with a new team. That could rule out a lateral move to another mid-major. Marcus Keene switching from Youngstown State to Central Michigan might be a case study on mid-major transfers, the Chippewas, in spite of his prolific scoring, still finished in the bottom of the MAC standings. Plus Keene has declared for the NBA Draft.

If the NBA is Edwards’ primary goal, then perhaps this is an option. But team performance is likely to be a consideration, and no matter the level of pro aspirations, it seems highly unlikely that Edwards would opt for a middling program.

Where does Cleveland State stand, then? Well, Felton has made it clear he wants to hit the ground running with his current squad. And Edwards, in all honestly, would be the lynchpin that would finally get the Vikings over the hump.

The backcourt rotation, which was lacking last season and probably contributed to a few of those close losses, would be much more solid. Kash Thomas returns as point guard, finally joined by Gavin Peppers, whose season was wiped out by injury. Add to the mix freshmen sharpshooter Shawn Christian, who should take some pressure off of Bobby Word and Kenny Carpenter, who struggled at time last year.

Having Edwards in the rotation, especially as the team’s returning leading scorer, would catapult Cleveland State back to having one of the best backcourts in the Horizon League. And in a guard-heavy conference, that’s the key difference between the top and the bottom.

Beyond that, Edwards is also probably looking at what help the frontcourt would bring. And this may very well be where Felton’s previous coaching experience comes into play. While retired head coach Gary Waters tended to struggle with developing big men (Aaron Pogue and Anton Grady being the exceptions), Felton has had some success in this department. The best example would be Felton’s center at Western Kentucky, Chris Marcus, who was an honorable mention All-American in 2001 and 2002.

And Felton, who served as the Director of Pro Player Personnel with the San Antonio Spurs, would certainly know what Edwards would need to do in order to make it to the pros.

Ultimately, Edwards will do what he feels is best for his basketball career, and that could very well be at another school. That said, perhaps the above arguments could simply go beyond the “the team would be awful without you” line and, as a result, maybe might make Edwards change his mind.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Dennis Felton’s at Cleveland State. Now the Real Work Must Begin.

Well, the hire has been made and the introductory press conference is now in the books. Dennis Felton is now the head men’s basketball coach at Cleveland State. Among the guests at his presser were athletic director Mike Thomas, who chose Felton over, among others, Jerrod Calhoun and Jermaine Kimbrough, and the recently-retired Gary Waters, whom Felton considers a mentor.

Felton, to his credit, has the presence of mind to understand what’s at stake in the coming months as it relates to the CSU program. There are already many questions that will need to be answered before the 2017-18 season tips off in November.

At the forefront is the local ties. During his press conference, Felton mentioned the need to focus on local recruiting to strengthen the ties between Cleveland State and the community. The challenge becomes overcoming his own lack of ties to Northeast Ohio.

The question may inevitably answer itself during Felton’s hiring of a new coaching staff. While nobody is sure if either former assistants Larry DeSimpelare or Jermaine Henderson will be retained, there is certainly at least one slot open, as Cornelius Jackson has accepted an offer to join the Marshall staff.

At this point, the hiring of an assistant with local ties is the highest priority, especially considering with the announcement of Calhoun as the new head coach at Youngstown State, Northeast Ohio will be a major target for him and his Penguins staff.

Helping Felton’s cause are as well the recent shows of support from two of the area’s most prominent names in high school hoops: St. Edwards’ Eric Flannery and Garfield Heights’ Sonny Johnson. In the case of Johnson, the endorsement does seem to indicate that one of his players, CSU signee Shawn Christian, will definitely honor his commitment to the Vikings and be a part of the squad next year.

It’s too early to tell, but any help from the high school ranks would go a long way, especially after Babe Kwasniak, the head coach at Villa Angela-St. Joseph, was openly baffled by Cleveland State’s seeming refusal to give further consideration to Calhoun. This is particularly noteworthy, given that recent CSU player Demonte Flannigan was recruited out of VASJ.

Beyond the incoming recruiting, retaining current players will have to be on Felton’s agenda. And, according to a report from the New-Herald’s David Glasier, sophomore star Rob Edwards is at the top of that list.

As it stands, Felton will already be looking to fill at least seven open scholarship slots for 2018. But before that even happens, he now must worry about the prospects of potentially losing his top playmaker to another school. Felton’s ties to the NBA, a clear aspiration for Edwards, may contribute to providing a compelling argument. But it’s not really clear at this point whether it will work.

Other major questions on the current Cleveland State roster remain as well. Who else is thinking of leaving? What becomes of Derek Sloan? Where does redshirt freshman Andy Lucien fit into all of this? While it’s a situation that Felton has faced in his prior head coaching roles at Western Kentucky and Georgia, there can be little hesitation.

The last, and quite possibly biggest, piece of the puzzle is CSU’s overall standing within the Cleveland sports landscape. Even as Felton’s press conference splashed on the headlines, that news had to compete with both Calhoun’s hire at YSU and the recent announcement at Akron’s Keith Dambrot will be taking over at Duquesne.

Again, from Felton’s own experience, the lack of attention isn’t a new situation for him. One story he related during the press conference was the miniscule crowds that showed up to Western Kentucky games during the early years of his tenure. Upon his departure in 2003, the Hilltoppers averaged more than 5,400 people per home game.

It also probably helped that Felton’s WKU teams didn’t lose a single game at home from 2001 to 2003.

While that may be impressive, as Felton is likely aware, Cleveland is not basketball-hungry Kentucky. CSU not only competes for attention with the Cavaliers, it also has to contend with Akron and Kent State, whose own success can snatch away any Viking media attention in a heartbeat.

The next few months will likely give Felton the opportunity to dispel any concerns that fans and the media (myself included on both counts) have about his hiring. Any misstep along the way either by Felton or Cleveland State could prove costly.

Let’s be honest here. Felton was a safe pick. With the expectations that Thomas would make a home-run hire, the selection of Felton can be considered, at best, a ground-rule double. Sure, the batter made it safely on base, but he’s going to need a lot of help to make it home to score.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com