As the Zips coaches enter the summer recruiting season, they have a larger task ahead than most years.
They will grant four scholarships. The level of success Akron has in bringing in its top targets -- or more importantly, players who fit in Keith Dambrot's system -- could determine the team's success from 2009 to 2013.
That's not to mention that the team will need to replace Nick Dials, Jeremiah Wood, Cedrick Middleton and Quade Milum.
"2008 is a big year for us," assistant coach Jeff Boals said this morning. "After we lose that class, we'll be pretty young.
Akron has a database of a couple hundred high school juniors, broken down into three lists (A, B and C).
"Out of that class, we''ll probably bring in two guards and two power forwards or big kids," Boals said. "We just try to identify the guys we really want."
Per NCAA policy, coaches cannot discuss players they are recruiting until the player signs a letter of intent. The two major recruiting sites, however, say Akron already has extended six scholarship offers.
mentions small forward
Nick Fruendt and power forward
Marquise Simmons. Fruendt
has offers from nine of the nation's best mid-majors.
Akron is Simmons'
only scholarship offer, but he has interest in Kentucky and Central Florida.
Rivals.com adds four more to the list. Point guard
has offers from six MAC schools, plus Butler.
The Zips also are going after Hitchens' AAU teammate,
Hakim McCullar, who is a 6-foot-7 power forward
with offers from Akron, Miami (Ohio), Ball State and Oakland.
is considering offers from Memphis, West Virginia, Maryland and Pitt, among others.
Drazen Zlovaric is a 6-8 European power forward
with high-major offers.
Almost every Akron target was on campus a couple weeks ago for the King James Classic AAU tournament. That kind of national exposure helps the program.
"There were probably 300 Division I coaches here," Boals said. "A lot of coaches said, 'I can't believe how nice your campus is.'"
While the football team has a recruiting advantage over the rest of the MAC because of its outstanding facilities and the promise of a new stadium, the basketball program has a subpar arena, offices and locker rooms. Boals did not want to be negative, but said there is room for improvement.
"They're OK. They're not bad. They're not great," he said. "(Athletic director)
and coach (Dambrot) have been talking about a new locker room complex, making a team video room, a player's lounge. There have been some talks about restructuring the JAR."
Akron also could add two more guards before the summer is over.
, who transferred from Cincinnati's football program, probably will join the team soon, although nothing is official yet. NCAA transfer rules would require him to sit out next year, and he already lost a year of eligibility.
also could join the team. The point guard from the Toledo area was recruited in 2006, but could not qualify academically.
"He's finishing up some academic work," Boals said. "I can't tell you one way or another if he'll be eligible."
If Roberts can play, he would join a battle for the point guard position. As of now, true freshman
and redshirt freshman
will get most of the minutes. However, Boals mentioned how difficult it is for a player to sit out an entire year, without even practicing with the team. One example of that is
, who looked lost on offense at times last year.
"Jimmy had a good year, not a great year," Boals said. "It's so hard for a kid to sit out a whole year and not practice or play. Rec Center ball is one thing, but the speed of the game, learning the system. I can't tell you (Roberts) would or wouldn't play. It would be a big learning curve."
Here are some other notes from my conversation with the assistant coach...
Dambrot was upset to see
John Rybak transfer. His shooting helped the team in games at the end of last season. In my opinion, it's probably for the best. Rybak was at the back end of a logjam at small forward and didn't appear to have a high ceiling.
The coaching staff did pursue
Alex Kellogg, the son of former Buckeye
Clark Kellogg. Alex
eventually signed with Providence. The three finalists were Providence, Akron and Miami (Ohio). "He was an athletic power forward -- didn't have a great skill level but had a great upside," Boals said. "There's not a lot of big kids out there."
Boals expects Conyers, a junior-to-be, to recover the year of eligibility that he lost due to a transcript error, effectively making him a sophomore-to-be. In order to play the fifth year, Conyers must be on track to graduate.
You can't out-Cedrick
Cedrick Middleton, but if there's a secondary workout warrior this offseason, it's
Nick Dials. The senior guard has done extensive abdominal work and run in marathon relays. "Nick Dials is having an unbelieveable spring," Boals said.
Akron's coaches just love to rave about Middleton, though. "Cedrick ... there's not many kids like him in the country," Boals said. "Coach says, 'You need to hang out with Cedrick. You need to work out with Cedrick.'"
The biggest position battle in the fall will be point guard. But maybe it won't be a battle at all... "It will be a committee thing," Boals said. "McNees is looking good. Ronnie Steward had a great year. It's probably going to be freshmen coming in and playing. That's a good thing with coach Dambrot's system. It could be a situation where both Steve and Ronnie are on the court together."
Both guards run a faster paced offense than
Dru Joyce. If you had to compare the combo to an NBA backcourt, it would be Phoenix's. Steward is faster and a better shooter, like
Leandro Barbosa. McNees is the better ballhandler and passer, like
Steve Nash. "Both of those guys can put more pressure on the defense in pushing the ball up the floor than Dru," Boals said. "Are they going to be better than Dru? Probably not."
is one of 10 players on
the MAC's All-Freshman team
wrote about the first baseman
, the new holder of UA's career home run record.
If you follow the Aeros at all, I'd suggest bookmarking
. It's a good read.