After a recent practice Kent State guard Trevor Huffman sat in
the bleachers at the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center
and talked of the expectations created by the Golden Flashes'
77-73 victory over Indiana in the first round of last season's
NCAA tournament. Told by a reporter that Kent State was a likely
pick for SI's preseason Top 25, Huffman pleaded for help. "Oh,
man, we were hoping to sort of lay low," he said. "Can't you
just slide us in at 26 or so, you know, just under the radar?"
Before Huffman could argue further, senior forward Demetric Shaw
interrupted the conversation. "It's about time y'all showed up
to see us," Shaw told the reporter. "Look at this face"--he
pointed to Huffman's mug--"this face has been underestimated for
years. That's gotta change. This year I want to see some
pictures in the magazine!"
Not only are the Golden Flashes a big-time team this year, but
they're also ready to be treated like one. With three starters
back from a squad that won the Mid-American Conference
tournament and a school-record 24 games last year, Kent State is
the preseason favorite in the MAC, as well as a Cinderella in
the making. "We've got a lot of talent and older guys who want
to win," says Stan Heath, the former Michigan State assistant
who was hired as coach last April, after Gary Waters left to
take the Rutgers job. "It's nice to have players who know how to
win close games."
Foremost among these big-game performers is the multitalented
Huffman, a 6'1" senior who averaged 16.8 points and 4.5 assists
last season while making a habit of rising to the occasion. He
scored 27 in the conference tournament title game against Miami
(Ohio) and 24 against the Hoosiers in that NCAA win. Built more
like a boxer than a point guard, the 195-pound Huffman is capable
of both muscling to the hoop and pulling up with champagne-cork
explosiveness for three-pointers. Over the summer he was one of
47 invitees to the USA Basketball team trials and, though he
played well, he wasn't chosen. So instead of playing overseas, he
spent a month working out with NBA guards Bob Sura and Earl
Boykins at a high school near Kent.
He'll pair with senior Andrew Mitchell, who averaged 12.2 points
and 3.3 assists last season, to give the Golden Flashes the best
backcourt in the conference, which is important, because Kent
State's front line is far from intimidating. Last year the 6'3"
Shaw, who was named the MAC defensive player of the year, was the
Golden Flashes' best rebounder (6.9 a game). This season Heath
plans to play a nine-man rotation and is hoping to get
significant contributions up front from 7-foot sophomore John
Edwards and 6'9" freshman Nate Gerwig, both of whom are
physically talented but raw.
If his pivot-by-committee can hold its own in an exceptionally
deep MAC, Heath should find himself leading the
no-longer-underrated Flashes into the national spotlight. "We
embrace the attention," says Heath. "Now we have to go out and
prove we deserve it."
POS. PLAYER HT. CL. KEY STAT
SF Demetric Shaw 6'3" Sr. 6.9 rpg[#]
PF Antonio Gates 6'3" Jr. 5.3 ppg
C Nate Gerwig 6'9" Fr. 15.2 ppg*
SG Andrew Mitchell 5'11" Sr. 12.2 ppg[#]
PG Trevor Huffman 6'1" Sr. 16.8 ppg[#]
2000-01 record: 24-10
Final rank (coaches' poll): not ranked
*As high school senior
GRADUATION RATE: 27%
AVERAGE NUMBER OF WINS: 14.6
NCAA TOURNAMENT RECORD: 1-2
McDONALD'S ALL-AMERICANS: 0
PLAYERS IN NBA: 0
COMMENT: Three straight 20-win seasons is impressive, but it's
unfortunate that the Golden Flashes have done poor job of
holding on to players and seeing them graduate. Part of problem,
no doubt, is that Kent State has been springboard for coaches,
with Stan Heath fourth new head man in last 10 years--the sort
of turnover that plagues many mid-major schools.