LeBron James will accept his second-consecutive MVP trophy at Rhodes Arena on Sunday
Officials from the Cavaliers conducted a walk-through today on Akron's campus to find a suitable location for James' MVP announcement, according to the Beacon Journal's George Thomas. They settled on Rhodes Arena, where James played many of his high school games and his high school coach, Keith Dambrot, now leads the Zips.
Akron lost one of its best pass rushers today when Shawn Lemon decided to transfer.
Lemon decided to transfer because he felt the coaching staff would play underclassmen instead of seniors, in an attempt to rebuild. Lemon and coach Rob Ianello "weren't seeing eye to eye," the defensive end said.
While reconsidering his decision this week, Lemon received an inadvertent text message from Ianello, intended for athletic director Tom Wistrcill. The message suggested that Lemon had spoke about transferring before, and he may be doing it to seek attention.
That was apparently the last straw for Lemon, who is putting together his highlight tapes and has prepared his transfer documents. He is looking at William & Mary, Appalachian State and New Mexico as potential destinations for his last year of eligibility.
I'm actually sad to see Lemon go. He provides a skill set that the defensive line corps -- while deep -- now lacks.
Fans following Akron football for the past five years should have known better than to believe Erick Howard would show up in Blue and Gold.
He's going to prep school, as Tom Gaffney reports, and a future with the Buckeyes is on his mind.
Former Zips wide receiver Deryn Bowser will receive a tryout with the Arizona Cardinals in the team's upcoming rookie miniicamp. Bowser did not get selected in last week's NFL Draft.
Bowser will face competition at the receiver position at the minicamp. Arizona signed receivers Max Komar (Idaho), Jaumorris Stewart (Souther) and Stephen Williams (Toledo) as rookie free agents. Bowser was not signed.
Bowser had 307 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 21 receptions in 2009. He was lost for the season on Oct. 17 when he broke his leg in Akron's game against Buffalo.
In 2008, he had 64 catches for 785 yards and four touchdowns.
Most Akron fans will remember Bowser for the leaping touchdown reception he had against Kent State in 2008. The catch gave Akron a three-point lead with under two minutes remaining. The Zips ended up beating Kent State 30-27 in double overtime.
You can watch a highlight reel of Bowser after the jump.
The Zips have locked up their third recruit for 2011.
Six-foot-2 guard Blake Justice committed to Akron today, a source confirmed. He is a shooter with deep range out of Peebles High School in Southwest Ohio.
HighMajorScoop.com called Justice one of the top returning players in Ohio's Division III. ESPN.com Insider says Justice has a quick release and deep range on his jump shot.
Justice is the second recruit to commit in the past week. Forward Nick Harney was the other. Akron also received a verbal commitment from point guard Dylan Ennis in the fall.
Akron has one more scholarship to give in this class, which Keith Dambrot will use to replace four graduating seniors (two guards, a forward and a center). Sometime next week, I will break down candidates for the fourth scholarship.
For the second-straight year, no Akron Zips heard their names called on NFL Draft weekend.
This follows a stretch of four-consecutive years where a Zip was drafted in the fourth round or better.
Six players from around the conference were drafted, however. The earliest pick was Taylor Price from Ohio, who caught only two passes for 40 yards at InfoCision Stadium on Oct. 10. The Patriots selected him in the third round.
Three MAC players were chosen in the sixth round, including Dan LeFevour, the face of the conference for the past few years, who is heading to his hometown team: Chicago. His offensive teammate Antonio Brown, a former walk-on at Central Michigan, was a sixth-round pick by Pittsburgh. Buffalo running back James Starks is going to Green Bay.
Kent State tight end/fullback Jameson Konz was a seventh rounder by Seattle. Konz is an intriguing player. His athleticism could make him an immediate impact player on special teams.
This draft was not as fruitful for the MAC as last year's when three players were taken in the first 47 picks.
Looking forward, does Akron have any players likely to be drafted next year?
Benedictine forward Nick Harney will be one of at least four recruits for Akron in 2011.
The 6-foot-7 senior told the Plain Dealer he will attend Akron, after he scored 23 points in a win over the King James All-Stars in Barberton at the King James Shooting Stars Classic.
Despite being a senior, Harney will not be eligible until 2011 because of grades. Like Darryl Roberts, Harney will be able to recover his fifth year of eligibility if he makes sufficient progress toward a degree under the NCAA's Rule Prop 48.
Akron's other recruit for 2011 is Dylan Ennis, a 6-0 point guard out of Chicago, originally from Ontario, Canada. Sometime next week, I'll go over which other players Akron is targeting for that recruiting class.
After plans to expand the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams nearly gave college basketball a coronary, the NCAA scaled back its plans.
The Division I basketball committee decided to invite 68 teams now, creating three additional play-in games. Here is a good article describing the decision-making process.
Rob Ianello's first season will have uncertainty because of the players lost, the new scheme and another training camp without a proven starting quarterback.
His first spring was marked by bringing the returners up to speed on a new offense, defense, set of terminology, and -- apparently most difficult -- the snap from under-center.
Here is my outlook for each position:
Quarterback -- With Matt Rodgers still recovering from a knee six months before, Patrick Nicely took most of the competitive snaps. The good news is, Akron has depth with two players who have shown they're capable of playing. The bad news is, the Zips enter another season without having "the guy," which often retards offensive development. Nicely's spring was up-and-down. He struggled mightily with the under-center snaps. He made some good throws, but his weakness was clear: touch passes. It's hard for me to imagine Nicely not playing, at least some. The question, therefore, would be: Do the quarterbacks split time -- a notion that Ianello refused to dismiss during the spring game press conference? Outlook: Bright
Running back -- This is a position of strength for the Zips. Alex Allen looked quicker and stronger than ever. Broderick Alexander and Dale Martin (if healthy) can take some carries as his eventual successors. None of these three backs is a bruiser, so the emergence of a pounding fullback will be important, not just for lead blocking, but also for short-yardage situations. Don't dismiss LeVon Morefield as that person. Outlook: Very bright
Offensive line -- You can't complain with how J.D. Brookhart kept the offensive line cupboard stocked. For the past three years, there has been a nice mix of experience and talent. Mike Ward (at either center or guard) and Corey Woods (left tackle) are the stalwarts and potential All-MAC performers. Run blocking and pass protection are great, but the team cannot afford fumbled snaps. I hope that gets fixed before August. Outlook: Bright
Wide receiver -- The Zips have a clear No. 1 target in Jeremy LaFrance. They have a hopeful No. 2 in Jalil Carter. If Akron's track record in converting players to receiver continues (Domenik Hixon, Andre Jones), he will be a good one. But that's more uncertainty than you want out of a No. 2. Also, there is a dropoff after Carter. Anthony Meriwether played well at times last season. Nadir Brown has the physical tools if he toughens up and improves his hands. Curtis Brown has looked great in scrimmages, but he hasn't done anything when it matters. Gary Pride has not found his niche yet. The list goes on. Ianello might look to a true freshman to get serious minutes if these underclassmen don't figure it out by the end of August. Outlook: Dim
Special teams -- We have the usual suspects back at place kicker: Igor Iveljic and Branco Rogovic. They've both had their chance to claim the job, but neither had done it. Josh Couch or Zack Campbell will punt. Campbell, a junior, showed a big leg at times last year, but he is a walk-on. Couch grayshirted last season. It appears Jeremy LaFrance and Nate Burney will be the primary returners, unless a true freshman steps in. Outlook: Mixed
Defensive line -- The 4-3 scheme will allow Akron to take advantage of its depth along the line and open more playmaking opportunities for players like Shawn Lemon and Almondo Sewell. At tackle, Dan Marcoux, Joe Rash and Cowles Stewart will see time, along with the anchor, Sewell. At end, Lemon is the best pass rusher, and you'll also see plenty of Shane Shead, Hasan Hazime and Deni Odofin. Outlook: Very bright
Linebacker -- Brian Wagner, Sean Fobbs and Mike Thomas make up the best linebacker corps in the MAC -- and I'm not even bothering to look at other rosters. They are all big-time playmakers, and Wagner should be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Matt Little, Will Fleming and Troy Gilmer are more than capable of providing depth. Outlook: Blindingly bright
Cornerback -- Manley Waller is a shut-down corner by MAC standards. The other corner appears to be Diamond Weaver, who has played OK. Ideally, one of the younger players, such as Marvase Byrd, will earn time as the year progresses. Outlook: Bright
Safety -- Taking Carter from this position hurts. Only five players on the roster are listed as safeties (Kevin Davis, Thomas Miller, Jared Province, Doug Richardson, and Josh Richmond). By my count, only two are scholarship players. None has contributed significantly before. Three-star recruit Anthony Holmes might see playing time sooner than desirable. Outlook: Very dim
Overall -- The Zips won't be rebuilding next season. There is plenty of talent on the roster. The three critical questions are: 1) Whether a receiver or two will emerge to make the passing game effective. 2) Whether the weakness at safety can be masked by an uber-effective front seven and decent cornerbacks. 3) Whether Ianello can motivate the team to provide a consistent effort throughout the 12-game season. Outlook: Bright
Let me start by saying I rarely get excited about the spring game.
Mostly, I leave without a sense of whether one side of the ball was very good, or one was bad. From a journalistic standpoint, I get no better blog content from a scrimmage that lasts 30 minutes or one that lasts an hour.
There is great value to fans (and writers) in seeing a highly touted player for the first time. But that doesn't happen in the spring game, either. True freshmen are rarely on campus by then. The returning underclassmen, if good enough, have already seen the field.
Now that I'm done whining, here are some notes from the day...
It was cold outside. Some white stuff was intermittently falling from the sky, but I'm not sure if I'd call it snow. Regardless, it was not a pleasant day to watch a football scrimmage outdoors. Attendance reflected that. No one sat on the east side of the stadium. A maximum of 500, by my estimate, sat on the west side. There were, however, quite a bit of people in the club level. The university announced attendance of 1805, which caused Tom Gaffney to quip: "Were they counting asscheeks?"
Alex Allen busted around the left end to score a long touchdown in the first half. He is looking really good. The question is, are there enough weapons in the passing game to keep opposing defenses from stacking the box?
The point system for this offense-versus-defense game is odd. For example, the defense gets three points when the offense misses a field goal. The offense gets two points for every "explosive play," defined as a 10-yard rush or 15-yard pass. Apparently, Syracuse uses a similar plan. Let's keep it real: At the end of the game, who really cares about the score?
Eighteen players missed the game with injuries. Eighty-three are on the roster. No one was hurt during the game, however.
Almondo Sewell appears to have much more freedom to make plays within the 4-3 scheme. He made a few tackles and a sack (which scores two points for the defense). The Defensive Player of the Game Award was a toss-up between him, Brian Wagner (fumble recovery, several tackles) and Manley Waller (six tackles, two pass break-ups). The media (a.k.a. me, Gaffney and Evan Meyer) gave it to Waller.
The Offensive Player of the Game was Jeremy LaFrance, who caught two deep touchdown passes from Patrick Nicely. He said the atmosphere within the receiving corps is a lot different this year. "We don't have too many leaders in the group," LaFrance said, adding that assistant coach Frisman Jackson asked him to step into a leadership role. Jalil Carter looked good today. They will need at least one more player to contribute for the passing game to be a real threat. That could be Nadir Brown, Curtis Brown, Gary Pride or one of the true freshmen.
Aside from those two passes, Nicely did not look sharp. There were at least two fumbles on the snap under center. Nicely has taken shotgun snaps all his life. "I've never been under center," he said. "It sounds elementary, but it's really complex." Despite that, Nicely felt the game has slowed down for him and that the team has progressed throughout the spring. Coach Rob Ianello gave Nicely a mixed review: "Sometimes he got flushed (from the pocket). Sometimes he made some nice throws. Sometimes he forced a few."
Ianello reaffirmed his commitment to holding a quarterback competition in the fall. He did not rule out having both players earn minutes. "It's going to be wide open in all fairness to Matt (Rodgers) and in all fairness to the team," Ianello said. Discussing Rodgers, the coach said: "Matt is very cerebral. He'll have to transfer that from the classroom to the field." Ideally, the staff hopes that one player will separate himself from the other. Nicely is looking forward to the competition and to "showing I'm the better person for the job," the sophomore said.
The offense was horrible in the second half. Despite the offense always having the ball it only scored one point in the third quarter. Mind you, the offense gets a point simply by achieving a first down. "Maybe it was the break in the intermission," Ianello said. "They couldn't get back on top of their game. It was not a good offensive third quarter."
As always, the team hired referees for the game. There was not a single penalty until 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter -- a pass interference call on Waller during a Hail Mary.
The team sung the fight song in the locker room after the game. It's good to see Ianello is establishing some traditions.
The final score was 53-38, with the defense winning. Click here to read the stats on GoZips.com. Ianello's overall thoughts: "I was pleased with our energy. I was pleased with our competitiveness. After 15 days, I think we've made some progress."
Sometime next week, I'll give my outlook for 2010, position by position.
Akron's roster has seen an overhaul in the past week. Three players are gone. Two signed.
Keith Dambrot struggles every year to find a rotation that makes him happy. Usually, he errs on the side of having a large rotation.
So whom can Zips fans expect to see on the floor next year? Here's my best guess...
Discussion -- Fans are somewhat polarized on this, but I feel Steve McNees is a good point guard. The question is not whether McNees can play. The MAC Tournament should have been ample evidence of that. It is whether he can be the orchestrator of the offense. After McNees, it will be interesting to see if Dambrot prefers to have a true point guard or if he prefers to have his best players on the floor. If it's the former, he will play Alex Abreu when McNees is out. If it's the latter, then Humpty Hitchens will play 15 minutes per game at the point and Abreu will redshirt. The coaches will probably make that decision in the fall.
Conclusion -- McNees starts and plays 25-30 minutes. Hitchens gets the remainder.
Discussion -- Here is the big logjam of three experienced players. Darryl Roberts is arguably the team's most dependable, smartest player, and shooting guard is really the only place for him. Brett McClanahan and Humpty Hitchens can play a little at small forward and point guard, respectively, but not that's not ideal. When Hitchens is at the point, Roberts needs to be on the floor as the other ball-handler. McClanahan will have to start hitting shots more regularly to earn his minutes.
Conclusion -- Hitchens starts and plays 10 minutes. Roberts plays 20-25. McClanahan gets the remainder.
Discussion -- Brett McKnight is the senior who has played all three years prior. The question is, who backs him up? This is pure speculation, but I doubt that Quincy Diggs would choose to transfer here without some assurance he would get minutes.
Conclusion -- McKnight starts and plays 25. Diggs plays 10. McClanahan plays five.
Discussion -- With the departure of Chris McKnight, Nik Cvetinovic can take his rightful spot at the four. He will need some help from at least one of the true freshmen, especially considering his propensity for committing fouls. This will be the other big question for fall training camp. At least one of the incoming forwards has to show he's ready to play.
Conclusion -- Cvetinovic plays 25. McKnight plays five. Dakotah Euton/Josh Egner/Michael Green plays 10.
Discussion -- This position is straight-forward. Zeke Marshall must play. Mike Bardo is the backup, with a specialty on bruising the other team. If one of the freshmen shows something, Cvetinovic can get some minutes when Marshall is on the bench. If Green is not redshirted, he can help out, too.
Conclusion -- Marshall plays 25. Bardo plays 10. Green plays five.
Akron signed a fifth player for this year's recruiting class: 6-foot-6 small forward Quincy Diggs. Because his school, the University of New Orleans, is dropping Division I basketball, Diggs is immediately eligible to play in 2010-11.
Here is the press release from UA:
The Zips feel that another signing may come soon.
The target is 6-foot-6 swingman Quincy Diggs, who is transferring from the University of New Orleans after the school announced it plans to drop Division I basketball.
He played 13.3 minutes per game last season as a freshman, scoring 3.3 points and grabbing 1.6 rebounds per game.
Here is his bio from UNO's Web site:
Three players have transferred from the team, including point guard Ronnie Steward, according to a team source.
Steve Swiech and Alex Sullivan also chose to transfer, but Steward is the surprise among the three, because he had been earning more minutes after recovering from a leg injury last season.
The team added a point guard from Puerto Rico to potentially take Steward's spot in the lineup. Five-foot-9 guard Alex Abreu signed a letter of intent, the university announced today.
Here is what GoZips.com's press release says about the new addition:
Humpty Hitchens' father was found dead Tuesday morning in his home.
Craig Hitchens, 41, coached his son growing up. The Chillicothe newspaper article does not specify a cause of death, but foul play is ruled out.
I urge Zips fans to pray for the Hitchens family.
Looking to add depth at receiver, Rob Ianello moved junior safety Jalil Carter to offense.
That comes from Tom Gaffney's article in today's paper. He does a nice job describing the offensive issues during the spring.
I hope to cover another practice week before the spring game on Saturday.
Here is a look at how Rob Ianello is attacking the recruiting trail, according to data from Rivals.com.
-- Akron has made offers to 16 high school juniors. -- A majority will never consider Akron. Two have already committed to Ohio State. Many others have a bucket full of offers from notable BCS schools. -- About half are from Northeast Ohio. Three are from New York. One is from Florida.
Here are some players Akron might land...
-- Louie Addazio, tight end, Florida. Akron is the only offer for this 6-foot-3 prospect, who also has interest in other MAC schools and southern BCS schools. -- Shaquille Petteway, linebacker, Steubenville, Ohio. Besides being young enough to possibly be named after the Big Aristotle, Petteway has offers from Michigan State, Syracuse, West Virginia and Toledo. -- Andrew Bohan, offensive tackle, Avon Lake, Ohio. He took an unofficial visit last month and liked it here. Akron is his only offer. -- Robert Mincey, defensive end, Fairfield, Ohio. He has offers from five of the six MAC schools in Ohio. In case you were wondering, he has no relation to former Kent basketball player Jordan Mincy. -- Landon Smith, wide receiver, Girard, Ohio. The 6-1 receiver holds offers from Indiana, Kent, Ohio, Toledo and Akron.
I suppose there is a reason Kent's hippie stereotype persists. I'm going to put up the windows in Stow on Thursday, just in case there is a strong wind coming from the east.
What an exciting run that Butler made this season!
Keith Dambrot has wanted to be the Gonzaga of the Midwest. Too late. Maybe Akron can be the Butler of Ohio.
Beyond that, what has separated these elite programs from their mid-major peers -- and for prolonged periods? Butler and Gonzaga have been really good for a long time now.
First, and I think most obvious, is the high-major athleticism. For Gonzaga, it was long, leaping wing players. For Butler, it was lightning-quick guards.
Second is the premier scorer. Gonzaga has done it with Adam Morrison. Butler used Gordon Hayward. When crunch time comes, you know who's getting the ball. You know that person has won games before. And you know they have the confidence to do it again.
Third is the swarming defense. Butler forced a lot of long shot clocks with its aggressive perimeter defense tonight. It should be intuitive that defense -- once crystallized -- is one function that does not have "off nights."
Fourth is luck. Butler played a lot of good teams without a player or two. Gonzaga won several big games on the last ticks of the clock.
When Akron has had its best team in 2006-2007, the defense was great and the offense had two go-to players in Jeremiah Wood and Romeo Travis. But it didn't have the high-major athleticism to deal with that of Nevada (the only team with NBA talent that Akron played that year). And it certainly didn't have a slither of luck, with Doug Penno's half-court bank shot and the NIT snub.
Last season, the Zips had very little of any of those categories. Akron didn't have the perimeter quickness to keep up with star guards. Jimmy Conyers displayed a high-major skill set, but his defensive abilities were used mostly in the post. Zeke Marshall is a leaper, but he was too thin to be a true impact player. As to the second category, Akron barely had a scorer over 10 points per game. Conyers (10.1 ppg) hardly could be considered a go-to scorer, and Brett McKnight was terrible in the last possessions of games. The third category, defense, was just OK -- not nearly what it should have been. The fourth category, luck, did not help Akron. The Zips ran into a red-hot Bobcats team that even chewed up No. 2 seed Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament.
Why am I rambling about all of this? Because that game was really exciting. And I cannot legitimately focus on homework just yet.
I'm going to blog about recruiting in the next day or so.
You have probably heard by now that the NCAA Tournament is likely to expand to 96 teams, with 32 teams getting a first-round bye.
The details will determine whether this is good for mid-major teams. For instance, the NCAA could give each conference regular season champion an automatic bid, like the NIT (which would be eliminated) currently does.
Here is a fascinating letter to the editor regarding the atmosphere at Akron basketball games. It makes some good points.
The university will celebrate the Zips' accomplishments with a party on April 23. The details, per GoZips.com:
Ohio University star Armon Bassett will declare for the NBA Draft. If he is not selected, he will play professionally elsewhere, according to numerous sources.
This will shift the power in the MAC East away from defending champion Ohio. Once again, the division will be anyone's to take.