Tag Archives: Stefan Kenic

For Cleveland State, Next Year Has Arrived (But Not For Everybody)

The Cleveland State men’s basketball season, the first for head coach Dennis Felton, has finally come to its end. At this stage, most CSU fans have just resided themselves watching the future, which clearly rests on the shoulders of sophomores Kash Thomas and Evan Clayborne and freshmen Tyree Appleby and Stefan Kenic, rather than hope the present would get any better.

But then a funny thing happened on the way to the off-season: The Vikings got hot at Motor City Madness. All the way to the final game.

CSU, for its part, could have just rested on the first-round win over Youngstown State, which, of course, was a grind until the very end. The long odds and shot turnaround time from the victory against the Penguins would make any Vikings fan skeptical of beating Northern Kentucky, which had bested CSU by double digits twice in the regular season, let alone get to the final game.

But yet, there the Vikings were, fighting through nail-biter after nail-biter. And for the third year in a row, the top seed at the Horizon League Tournament failed to win the whole thing. And for the second year, the No. 1 seed inexplicably lost to the winner of the 8-9 first round game.

This year’s victim was Northern Kentucky, who, aside from getting swept by Wright State, had been pretty well-set at the top of the conference standings. And as for Cleveland State, the Norse had no issues dispatching of the Vikings twice in the regular season, with both contests won by at least 15 points.

CSU dismissed those early-season setbacks and ran headlong into the defending champions with no fear. The end result was a nine-point Cleveland State win, and Appleby was the star. The All-Freshmen team selection was unconscious in the second half, finishing with a game-high 24 points and putting all conference foes on notice that he’d be a force to be reckoned with for the next three years.

The ugly defensive slugfest against Oakland that was finally settled with 32.4 second left. That’s when Appleby stared down the Horizon League’s top shot-blocking squad and dropped a baseline layup.

And when that was through, senior Kenny Carpenter, whose 14 second-half points proved to be key, locked down Kendrick Nunn, the conference player of the year, and kept his final shot from getting in the basket, leaving Cleveland State with an astounding 44-43 win.

Even though Wright State proved to be too much for the Vikings in the finals, handing CSU a 74-57 defeat en route to a ticket to the NCAA Tournament, the foundation, it appears, has been laid.

For the Cleveland State fans that took the wait-and-see approach with Felton in his inaugural campaign, the Motor City Madness run was an early payoff to their patience. And CSU, who did everything within its power to get fans to Little Caesars Arena, can now think about how to expound upon this late-season success.

There will be far greater expectations for both the on-court performance and fan enthusiasm. Even with six departing seniors, Felton will still return two full-time starters (Appleby and Kenic), one former starter turned sixth man (Thomas), Clayborne, Dontel Highsmith and Shawn Christian.

Add into the mix DePaul transfer Algevon Eichelberger, fall signees Rashad Williams and Deante “Spider” Johnson, plus Dibaji Walker, Seth Milner, Uros Plavsic and JUCO transfer Jalaam Hill, who are all expected to join CSU during the spring signing period. With the general consensus being that this is the most talented recruiting class in a long time, Felton will have to get them all adjusted to the Division I game quickly.

One sign he may get a chance to get the team on the same page quicker than, say, midway through the non-conference schedule, is the pending trip to Europe. Men’s basketball has already started the fundraising effort to get the $20,000 in funds to make that trip a reality. And with $4,635 already banked from CSU’s annual Giving Day event in February, it’s only a matter of time before the team gets the rest of the funds and can start packing their bags.

From a fan standpoint, Athletics must take a good, hard look at the effort put in during the conference tourney and parlay that into a plan to boost attendance at the Wolstein Center. The smart move would be to keep the summer social media push (which featured weekly videos and the blitz on Twitter involving the mascot, Magnus) going year-round.

The logical first stop? Spring signing day. After all, all the new recruits are on Twitter, along with Thomas, Appleby, Highsmith and Clayborne. The chatter between all of them in the off-season will be something to watch.

So, as the title implies, next year has arrived, but not for everybody. For the seniors, next year is here in the form of new adventures, both on the court and off, after graduation. For the underclassmen and recruits, next year comes in the form of getting to know each other and the prospect of making 20-loss seasons a thing of the past.

For the coaches, next year comes in the form of the spring signing period, along with taking a good, hard look at the recruiting class of 2019 and beyond. For the fans, next year comes in the form of, well, beating each other up on social media and the CSU Viking Hoops message board run by writer Tom Mieskoski.

For me and this column, however, there is no next year.

In January, I made the decision to stop the CSU column I have written since May 2014, starting at the now-defunct More Than a Fan: Cleveland and continuing here at Campus Pressbox in March 2016. It’s been a good run, but as they say, all good things must come to an end.

Sure, you’ll still see me break out the occasional Twitter rant, but as far as this column is concerned, that’s a wrap. There’s still plenty of news and views about Cleveland State out there, starting with Mieskoski’s Cleveland State Hoops site and including upstarts like 216 Sports and The Reserve News. You’d do well to follow all of them, as I have.

For someone who never thought he’d be writing anywhere ever again, it has been an honor and a privilege to cover my alma mater. And I thank all of you, both at Cleveland State and beyond, who made this possible. Because at the end of the day, win or lose, I will always be a fan.

An occasionally grouchy, angry fan, but a fan, nonetheless.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

Hard Lessons in Learning How to Win for Cleveland State

Cleveland State might be forgiven for feeling its way through the non-conference schedule, given the new coaching staff and the need to have the new players and upperclassmen start gelling as a team. However, with the slate head coach Dennis Felton and company put together in the ramp-up to the Horizon League games, the Vikings have been dropped into the deep end of the pool and are asked to swim back to shore.

In the first six games, it’s clear that learning to win has been a lesson that has seen Cleveland State take steps forward and backward. Taking away the blowout at Rutgers, and you can see two, perhaps three games early on that could have been winnable for the Vikings.

But when you have a team with a new coach and whose veterans have suffered from back-to-back 20-loss seasons, the road to completing the final lessons in winning will be winding and, at times, full of potholes.

The primary lesson, at least in the early going, has been the ability to close out games. Against East Carolina and Central Connecticut State, Cleveland State was leading in the final minutes. And, in both cases, offensive outages, coupled with defensive lapses, proved to be too much to overcome at the end of both contests.

As frustrating as the losses have been (and you were all warned about this, by the way), you have gotten the sense that it was only a matter of time before the Vikings were finally able to get over the hump. And Wednesday’s match-up against Arkansas State was a sign that things were taking a turn in the right direction.

Sure, Cleveland State had kept letting the Red Wolves back into the game, as it had against ECU and CCSU. But this time, the Vikings hunkered down, and bolstered by a key block by Bobby Word and a defensive set that led to an unforced error by Arkansas State, CSU came through with the 75-72 victory.

“We talked about the first year and how important it is to build your culture and set a high standard of excellence,” Felton told The News-Herald after the win.

If any of this sounds familiar to longtime Cleveland State fans, that’s likely because the Vikings have been in this situation before. It was 11 years ago, to be exact when Gary Waters took over as the head coach after years of poor-to-middling teams capped by four straight 20-loss seasons.

That, as it seems, is where the similarities end. Waters, in his first year, was given the latitude to ease Cleveland State back on the winning track, bringing transfers like Cedric Jackson, Chris Moore and George Tandy into the mix, starting in Year Two.

Felton, on the other hand, has taken a different approach. First, he’s called on the senior holdovers from the Waters era, specifically Word, Kenny Carpenter and Anthony Wright, to step up in the starting rotation. In addition, lending to a sense of urgency, the new players he’s brought into the mix, freshmen Stefan Kenic and Tyree Appleby, along with Northern Illinois transfer Dontel Highsmith, have played big minutes so far this season.

While the Arkansas State win was a much-needed boost, the non-conference road doesn’t get any easier, which includes tough road contests against Top 25 teams Cincinnati and Michigan State. That said, the Vikings appear to be in a better position than preseason pundits saw them, and with the volatility of the Horizon League, don’t be surprised if they pull out some wins nobody expected.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

Cleveland State Is a Good Team…In the Future

After Saturday’s 67-57 loss to Akron, one thing was made very clear: Cleveland State, as a whole, is not a bad team. The problem is that this year, the Vikings are going to drive fans utterly insane.

While the preseason expectations have been pretty low, by all accounts, there has been some reason to think that CSU will outperform predictions. Even head coach Dennis Felton is optimistic that his team will overachieve this season.

“We want to be better than we are supposed to be,” Felton said to The Reserve prior to the start of the season. “What that translates to in term of wins and losses, there is no way for me to know that.”

And for the first half of the Zips game, the Vikings absolutely were better, out-hustling, out-muscling and out-playing Akron at every turn. Unfortunately, some of the old Cleveland State bugaboos (poor three-point shooting and foul troubles), along with some new ones (the abysmal 40 percent from the free-throw line) ultimately cost CSU the game.

Then the Vikings ran into Rutgers on Tuesday.

The Scarlet Knights pushed Cleveland State around in the second half. That, coupled with the fact that the Vikings decided that this wasn’t really the game for the offense to show up, led to a 70-38 drubbing.

It’s not hard to see why, two games in, fans are dread what lies ahead. Offensively, the five seniors (Terrelle Hales is currently out) are averaging 24 points per game. The team as a whole is shooting 14.6 percent from beyond the arc, and the free-throw shooting has been even more atrocious.

All of this said, however, this can be viewed less as a failure on Felton’s part to work with what he has and more as an indictment on Gary Waters’ dwindling recruiting prowess in his final years as head coach. With an entire recruiting class (2015) no longer on the team and his 2014 and 2016 classes unable to match their defensive intensity with even a glimmer of offense, Felton’s first year was doomed from the start.

As Cleveland State preps for its home opener against Coppin State, fans have to be wondering what the appeal of this team will be as the season wears on. And while Felton will remain optimistic on his team’s performances in the coming months, the people he’s trying to convince to buy tickets, an already historically cynical bunch, are apt to disagree.

When you go beyond the surface, it looks as if Felton has already taken the frustrations of this season into consideration and has started building the foundation from which he’ll rebuild the program.

If you need any further proof of this, look no further than freshmen Stefan Kenic and Tyree Appleby. Kenic, the 6-9 Serbian, has already landed a spot in the starting lineup, and it isn’t very hard to see why.

With a dearth of offensive options for the Vikings, Kenic, in the first two games, has stepped up to the challenge. In fact, he currently leads the team in three-point shooting. Appleby, on the other hand, has provided a spark off the bench and clearly has shown no fear as it comes to slashing to the basket, as he did on more than one occasion in the first two games.

As freshmen, of course, there is certainly room for improvement for both players. Kenic will need to further develop his presence on the offensive glass, while Appleby will need to boost his free-throw shooting. And as the season wears on, Felton will look for ways to cut down their turnovers (both average three per game).

However, if you’re a casual fan and don’t want to get caught up in the frustration of the roller coaster this season is looking more likely to be, there’s always next year.

The one gift Waters gave Felton was a great deal of flexibility in recruiting. And with only two Waters holdovers (Kash Thomas and Evan Clayborne), that has given Felton opportunities to shape the Viking roster in his own image.

In addition to Kenic and Appleby, you can expect to see more of Northern Illinois transfer Dontel Highsmith once he’s finished completing his three-game suspension for breaking team rules. There’s also freshman Shawn Christian, who has yet to see action. But with offense coming at a premium for CSU, what could it hurt to give him some minutes?

Even before the fall signing period began, Felton had already brought on some size with 6-8 forward Algevon Eichelberger, who will be available next year after transferring from DePaul. Cleveland State has also gotten Wayne (MI) Memorial combo guard Rashad Williams to sign at the beginning of the fall signing period and his AAU teammate, 6-9 forward Deante “Spider” Johnson, signed Wednesday. The Vikings have another verbal commitment Kenic’s Serbian teammate Uros Plavsic, whose 7-1 frame makes him the tallest player CSU will have had since Aaron Pogue.

The future for the Vikings looks far brighter than the present current looks like. Then again, as they say, it’s always the darkest before dawn.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

Cleveland State’s Offensive Hopes Center Around an Improved Word

Make no mistake. The departure of Rob Edwards from Cleveland State was a major blow. The Vikings’ leading scorer was poised to have a breakout junior campaign but opted to transfer to Arizona State instead of making the transition from Gary Waters to Dennis Felton.

That said, Edwards was only part of CSU’s offensive picture from last season that has been wiped away. Demonte Flannigan’s points also won’t be there for Felton, as the starting forward graduated. Between Flannigan and Edwards, the Vikings will be missing out on nearly 41 percent of its scoring from last year.

Some might look at the incoming set of recruits to make up the difference. But the new class, which includes, freshmen Shawn Christian, Stefan Kenic and Tyree Appleby, as well as transfer Donte Highsmith, is kind of a wildcard, even though there is evidence from the Thursday exhibition against Cedarville that this group can fill some of those gaps.

What fans should look for this season, in addition to the prospect of throwing the new class into the fire immediately, is the leadership of the upperclassmen. And with six seniors on the roster, it’s little wonder that Felton should be able to look within to find some points.

And realistically, Felton should have to look no further than one of those seniors in the backcourt: Bobby Word.

While sophomore point guard Kash Thomas may certainly be a factor on the offensive end, depending on how quickly he comes back from a concussion, he will need some people to pass the ball to. And Word would qualify as those scoring options for Thomas.

Word, the senior transfer from Oral Roberts, would be the best choice, given that he is still slated to be in the starting rotation. He finished the 2015-16 campaign third on the team in scoring, matching Flannigan’s 11.1 points-per-contest. He also made an early splash that included a season-high 25 points against Western Michigan.

But as the season wore on, the three-point shooting that Word became known for got away from him, and he found himself in quite an offensive funk. The low point game in back-to-back games in February against Oakland and Valparaiso. The perfect storm of poor three-point shooting (0 percent) and fouling out effectively neutralized Word as an offensive concern.

Even as Felton has committed to a positionless system on the court, Word is expected to play a key role. And while the game situations might dictate that Felton plays multiple guards beyond the three that have been a Waters signature lineup, Word has the opportunity to be a focal point of the offense.

For Word to accomplish this, of course, he will need to cut down on the shooting slumps that bedeviled him for a good part of 2015-16. And if the droughts happen, they need to end rather quickly.

Such was the case during the exhibition against Cedarville. Even though he was relatively quiet offensively, Word would eventually drop six of 12 shots, including a pair of three-pointers, tallying 14 points before leaving the game with 5:56 left. Word also added four assists, three rebounds and a pair of steals.

With the opener at Akron on November 11th looming, Word is already emerging as the senior leader Felton needs in his inaugural campaign. That said, it’s important for Word to remain consistent on the offensive end if Cleveland State hopes to outperform the low expectations set forth by preseason prognosticators.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

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