Both the men's and women's teams held media day today. Here are some notes I jotted down from each:
Keith Dambrot showed up with Jimmy Conyers and Chris McKnight, his seniors. In the crowd were Humpty Hitchens, Nik Cvetinovic and Zeke Marshall.
They served lunch, so the crowd was fairly large with people from the athletic department, maybe a dozen media members and a bunch of fans. It was a nice event, for sure. I think the women's program profited most, because Jodi Kest got her message out to people who primarily care about the men's team.
Dambrot spoke about Dakotah Euton, whom the Zips began to pursue after John Calipari took over for Billy Gillespie at Kentucky. Dambrot said it was common knowledge that Euton was back on the market after Calipari arrived because Euton would not fit Calipari's style. Dambrot dodged Tom Gaffney's direct question of whether Calipari no longer wanted Euton, but that is a fair assumption. (That doesn't mean, of course, that Euton was not good enough to play there.)
Dambrot compared Euton to a more physical version of Rob Preston, although not so bouncy. Both are tall white guys who prefer to play on the perimeter, so I guess that works. The coaches took notice of Euton when he was playing on the same AAU team as Josh Sewell, an Akron target who is headed for Miami (Ohio). Despite his guard-type skills, Euton will play power forward or center for Akron, Dambrot said.
Dambrot on recruiting: "We need to get guys that Ohio State, Xavier and Dayton want, but we can't beat them. For every guy like Zeke (Marshall), there are 50 who say 'no.' We have to look at guys who will get better and get on them early."
The coach answered a question about scheduling. Only five games are locked in for next year: Oakland, Niagara, Temple and Oakland on the road; Wyoming at home. He said, "No matter what we schedule, our league is going to drag us down (in RPI). You can't play the big boys in their gym with their referees, but you can play them neutral." He also criticized some of the MAC programs that have not invested in basketball as being a reason for the low league RPI. Dambrot suggested providing more NCAA Tournament revenue to the conference champion, in order to encourage more development in basketball.
Dambrot made a great point. Akron is No. 8 in the Mid-Major Top 25. The Zips are also the only team on the entire list that has a Division I-A football team. That says a lot about the athletic department and Dambrot's success here.
Ronnie Steward will start playing in a week. That will create a logjam at guard. Six players could conceivably see time: Steve McNees, Brett McClanahan, Darryl Roberts, Humpty Hitchens, Alex Sullivan and Steward. Dambrot asked Hitchens to stand up and explain his policy for rotating the guards in and out of the game. Hitchens said it will be a day-to-day process. Dambrot added that he will allow players to grab a spot in the rotation, which they will not relinquish.
My guard rotation would be: Hitchens, Steward and Sullivan at point guard. Roberts, McClanahan and McNees at shooting guard, with McNees also playing minutes at the point until Steward settles in.
Dambrot asked Cvetinovic to stand up from the crowd and tell what he's been working on. The Serbian center said he has worked to control his emotions and bond better with teammates. Dambrot asked Marshall to stand up and say how the transition to college has been. The 7-footer went on and on about how grueling Dambrot's practices are. Marshall nicknamed his coach, "El Diablo," which, of course, is Spanish for "The Devil."
Dambrot addressed attendance after a fan asked why the Beacon Journal and Plain Dealer do not cover the Zips on road games. After downplaying the newspaper's impact, he said, "We can't let Toledo outdraw us with a 7-59 record. We will never get to where we need to be without doing a better job (with attendance)."
I asked Dambrot to what extent he has had conversations about a new basketball arena. He conceded that there have been talks, but Tom Wistrcill is the best person to discuss that. However, an upgrade in facilities is necessary for recruiting, he said. "We don't have a 'wow' factor. We've done it with all people skills. We understand the economy, but we have an open window."
Coach Kest was quite excited about her team's outlook this season, which will begin tomorrow at home with a noon game against IUPUI.
"We feel like this is our year," she said of her team, picked fourth in the MAC. "This is the most excited I've been in a long team."
The Zips return all five starters and three other rotation players. They also add true freshman Rachel Tecca from Hoban, a 6-foot-1 forward who provided a double-double in Saturday's exhibition against Ashland.
Along with the depth, especially in the front court, Kest is counting on a team that has improved its chemistry greatly since last season, when she released several players from the program. Kest has been seeking chemistry that urges players to fight for each other. "I think we have that finally," she said.
The Zips' weakness in years past has been rebounding. With a deep frontcourt, Kest believes that problem is solved. The coach also wants to average more points this year -- in the 70-per-game range.
I will preview the Temple game tomorrow morning.