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By mrasor Published: March 6, 2007

Men's basketball

Romeo Travis fought through shaky moments this season, but still performed well enough to carry his Preseason MAC Player of the Year award to fruition.

He barely edged Toledo's Justin Ingram for the conference's top honor.

Travis rarely dominated, but scored his 14 points through the offense. The best MAC teams don't have systems that allow for one star to shine. Still, Travis played consistently, making shots, grabbing rebounds and tallying blocks.

  • Western Michigan's David Kool won Freshman of the Year. That's a good choice.

  • Toledo's Stan Joplin is the Coach of the Year. He did a great job this year, but Kent State's Jim Christian is my pick.

Speaking of coaches, my column talks about my great level of respect for Keith Dambrot...

Keith Dambrot is a nice guy. HeÕs so likable, that rabid opposing fans lay off him.

Sit down with him Ð it doesnÕt matter if youÕre a fan, player or journalist. HeÕll talk basketball as if youÕre a fellow coach.

On gameday, his attitude swings. Mr. Rogers becomes Mr. Knight Ð as in Bobby. He fl ails his arms, screams at referees, chugs Diet Pepsi, anguishes the poor plays and slightly acknowledges the good ones.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a great college basketball coach.

And heÕs overcome a lot to get to this point, both on and off the court.

LetÕs start with the fact Dambrot didnÕt even play college basketball. He earned his letters at the University of Akron as a middle infi elder on the baseball team.

He worked his way up the ranks in basketball, though, eventually fi nding a head coaching job at Central Michigan.

During a team meeting in 1993, DambrotÕs entire life took a detour. He noticed black players at CMU use the n-word. Dambrot asked if he could, too, to denote toughness. They agreed. A player unhappy about his playing time ratted Dambrot out to CMU administration. After a huge legal battle, the rising collegiate coach found himself without a job or even a chance to interview for a high school position.

Eight years later, Dambrot jammed his foot back in the door coaching a few teenagers named LeBron James, Romeo Travis and Dru Joyce.

Most Zips fans have heard that story dozens of times. But now consider what Dambrot has overcome on the court. Since taking the head coaching job at UA three years ago, his teams have fallen in many different ruts.

At times, the Zips couldnÕt hold a big lead, win a big road game, beat a zone defense, prevent cold spells on offense or avoid foul trouble. One by one, Dambrot has focused on each ailment and knocked it out.

Even the most recent problem, missing foul shots, may be subsiding as Akron drained almost every clutch foul shot down the stretch to beat Kent State on Sunday. The Zips are playing great basketball as they head to the Mid-American Conference Tournament as the No. 2 seed. And Dambrot is the reason.

As I watched Dambrot determinedly march the sidelines Sunday, I really realized what a gem we have. In 10 years, Zips fans will look back at Dambrot like they do Bob Huggins, who led UA to several successful seasons in the Õ80s.

Unlike Huggins, though, Dambrot probably wonÕt leave Akron. ItÕs his alma mater. His family has deep roots in Northeast Ohio. He truly likes it here.

Now he has a chance to take the Zips to their fi rst NCAA Tournament in 21 years.

Although a lot of fans will focus on Travis and Joyce this week, remember that AkronÕs mightiest Zip doesnÕt wear the jersey.

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