Thanks goes out to ZipsNation!, who suggested this topic for the Rasor's Edge...
When my favorite teams lose in the playoffs, I always look forward to next season.
It takes some of the sting away.
So instead of talking about how the Zips lost to Creighton on Thursday, “Rasor’s Edge” will look ahead to next season.
The Zips will return three starters next fall – guards Dru Joyce, Nick Dials and forward Romeo Travis. Guard Cedrick Middleton and forward Nate Linhart also will be back after playing well off the bench. However, Akron will lose much of its size since senior centers Rob Preston and Matt Futch will be gone.
Although the Zips would be good next year with just their returning players, what could separate Akron from the rest of the league is the addition of two players who were on last season’s roster yet did not play.
Guard Jimmy Conyers was coach Keith Dambrot’s top recruit from last season. A problem with his transcript kept him from playing. His shooting, athleticism and defense could make him the Mid-American Conference’s best player before he leaves Akron. He averaged 24 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists per game his senior year of high school in Baltimore.
Also, you may have seen a 6-foot-6 man with cornrows sitting behind the Zips bench at home games. He is Jeremiah Wood. Before his freshman year at Akron, ESPN analyst Dick Vitale named him his MAC Diaper Dandy of the Year. As a freshman, Wood started 26 games, averaging 9.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game for the Zips. He has missed more than a year with a knee injury.
“A lot will depend on how Jeremiah (Wood) and Jimmy Conyers will fit into the system,” Dambrot said. “To me those are the biggest issues we’ll face.”
Wood will return, fully healed, next season as a junior, Dambrot said.
“He practices every day,” Dambrot said. “He’s probably physically better than he’s ever been here.”
The 2006 recruiting class looks promising, as well. Three high school players, point guard Darryl Roberts, power forward Chris McKnight and center Mike Bardo, have signed to play for the Zips.
Roberts is a quick point guard from St. Francis de Sales High School in Toledo.
“He had a really good year,” Dambrot said. “He can shoot the ball, handle the ball. He’s athletic and quick.”
Roberts’ offensive skills have made him one of Northwest Ohio’s best players for the past two years.
“He’s one of those kids that makes other kids look good,” St. Francis deSales athletic director Carl Janke said. “He’s not selfish.”
Dambrot projects McKnight, who is 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, to be a power forward.
“He’s going to be a tough player,” Dambrot said. “Physically, he’s stronger than Romeo (Travis) was when he got here. He’s got long arms and is good around the basket. He has a chance to be an impact guy in our league.”
McKnight averages 14.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game for Lancaster High School, which is near Columbus. He is shooting 61.9 percent on field-goal attempts.
“I think he’ll be a solid player at the MAC level,” said Steve Blackledge, a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch who has covered McKnight several times in the past few years. “He’s a much more valuable player than his statistics would suggest. He’s a warrior who plays very hard and physical. He’s got a 15-foot shooting range, but is more comfortable driving to the basket and banging with people.”
McKnight is leading Lancaster High School through the Ohio Division I playoffs. Lancaster will play Trotwood Madison in the state semifinals Friday.
Bardo also might help Akron in rebounding next season. Bardo, a 6-foot-9 player from Oak Hill High School, comes highly touted as a defensive stopper and rebounder.
“He’s very tough,” said Oak Hill’s head coach Mike Price. “He’s physical. He doesn’t mind banging people around or being banged around.”
Price and Dambrot agreed that Bardo could be a star if he improves his offensive game.
“He’s got a pretty big up side to him,” Price said. “His offensive skills will get better and better as he moves on.”
For a mid-major school like Akron, polished offensive post players are hard to find, Dambrot said. That means the Zips need to rely on projects like Bardo. About 20 other schools offered Bardo a scholarship, Price said.
“He’s just a quickly developing, strong kid who is very good defensively and needs work on offense,” Dambrot said. “We’re not going to get a finished product at that position. We have to project where they can go.”
Dambrot said he wasn’t sure who has the best chance to earn playing time next season. Playing time could depend on the play of Wood and Conyers.
“You never know who is going to be your best guy until you get him,” Dambrot said. “They all have a chance to play for us. A lot of it is opportunity.”
The five newcomers – Wood, Conyers, Roberts, McKnight and Bardo – should give Dambrot the most depth in the conference. Each position has a solid veteran and an underclassman prospect. Despite losing five of its last nine games this season, my optimism for the team is at an all-time high.