Hope seemingly went AWOL on Thursday night.
It was hard to find a moment to savor in the Zips’ 46-point loss to Virginia Commonwealth in the first round of the NCAA South Regional at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
But the bleak ending to UA’s 26-7 season should not obscure what lies ahead for the Mid-American Conference regular-season and tournament champion.
There’s a chance Quincy Diggs and Alex Abreu, players whose suspensions cost the Zips last week, could return for the 2013-14 season.
Help is on the way at point guard. Nyles Evans, a sophomore at Brevard (Fla.) Community College who ranks as North Canton Hoover’s all-time leading scorer, committed to UA at the end of December, according to the Canton Repository.
Two key junior forwards, MAC Tournament MVP Demetrius Treadwell and Nick Harney, will be back. Dambrot touted Treadwell as the Zips’ MVP all season. Harney converted to point guard after Abreu’s March 7 arrest on felony drug charges.
Four freshmen — wings Jake Kretzer (who averaged 21 minutes per game) and Reggie McAdams (12.3), point guard Carmelo Betancourt (11.5) and center Pat Forsythe (11.2) — received extended playing time.
The four-man class of 2013 includes two big men — 6-foot-9 power forward Kwan Cheatham of Winton Woods High School in Cincinnati, and Isaiah Johnson, a 6-10 center from Division I state semifinalist Cincinnati Walnut Hills. Johnson has a 7-2 wingspan, 3 inches less than departing two-time MAC defensive player of the year Zeke Marshall.
UA coach Keith Dambrot loses Marshall, Brian Walsh and Chauncey Gilliam, who started a combined 226 career games (130 by Marshall, the MAC’s all-time leader in blocked shots with 368). But even with those three players, UA entered the season as the ninth-youngest team in the nation, with 16 Zips having a total of 15 seasons of collegiate experience.
“We made some huge strides this year,” Dambrot said Thursday night at the Palace. “Unfortunately circumstances didn’t allow us to fulfill everything we wanted to do.”
To some, it might seem shocking that Gilliam and Abreu could be Zips again next season.
The university suspended Diggs in October for violating the student code. That penalty runs through mid-May. Such suspensions are accompanied by a list of sanctions that must be completed before he could be reinstated. Diggs will get the opportunity to do so a few weeks in advance of the suspension’s end. He must show continued progress toward a degree, even though he was not allowed to attend a UA satellite campus.
Abreu remains enrolled, UA spokesperson Eileen Korey confirmed. On Friday, Abreu pleaded not guilty to two third-degree felony counts in Summit County Common Pleas Court. His next appearance is scheduled for April 3.
Diggs’ and Abreu’s scholarship status would be determined by the athletics department.
Should Abreu not return, Evans could provide help for Betancourt, especially when the Zips need a scorer. According to the Repository, Evans also had offers from Middle Tennessee, Murray State and Miami University.
“We’ve got to get better in the backcourt,” Dambrot said.
Completing the 2013 recruiting class are B.J. Gladden, a 6-6 forward from Olympic High School in Charlotte, N.C., and Aaron Jackson, a 6-6 guard from Gahanna Lincoln, which produced ex-Zip Nate Linhart.
Forsythe, a 6-foot-11 Brunswick High School graduate who transferred from West Virginia, should benefit from the offseason.
“We’ll make Forsythe better,” Dambrot vowed.
Another plus is that Kretzer and McAdams found their niches as freshmen, providing outside scoring when opponents were concentrating on Marshall and Treadwell inside. Kretzer hit 6-for-6 from 3-point range in an overtime victory at Ohio on Feb. 27.
“Jake Kretzer is probably the heart and soul of our team from a work ethic standpoint and Reggie McAdams is right behind him,” Dambrot said earlier this month.
Asked if anything surprised him about the freshman class, Dambrot said: “Jake’s toughness level. He’s at the high end. You don’t expect a freshman to be your most consistent guy. The only thing you have to worry about with Jake on a daily basis is ‘Is the ball going to go in or not?’ Everything else is the same. He’s going to dive on the floor. He’s going to take the charge.”
Dambrot said Kretzer gained some of that mentality from football, the rest from playing for All-Ohio Red, which won the AAU national championship in August, 2011.
“He’s played against the best players in the country. He’s not in awe in any way,” Dambrot said.
McAdams, a quarterback at Elida High School, said he had Division I football offers from Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin. But he chose basketball, because his dream was to play in the NCAA Tournament.
McAdams’ first opportunity at that was a colossal disappointment. Marshall spoke more than once of playing six games, but failed to back up his bold talk with aggressiveness on the big stage. The Zips’ weakness at point guard was exposed by VCU’s full-court press. UA failed in its effort to win its first postseason game since the 2008 NIT. It is 0-for-3 in the NCAA, 0-1 in the NIT and 0-1 in the College Basketball Invitational since then. Dambrot called the game “a miserable experience.”
But in the coming weeks when the Zips consider the future, they may realize hope didn’t desert them.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.