The schedule shows the ambition, but whether this year’s University of Akron basketball team can live up to that ambition remains to be seen. However, based on last season, fans have reason to be hopeful.
Games against Oklahoma State in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament and NCAA Tournament participant Creighton loom on the schedule for a team looking to take a step up with respect to status and success.
“We play a difficult schedule, so we’re going to get tested early,” Keith Dambrot said while hanging out at Rhodes Arena on Friday. “Our goal is to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year so we can make a run in the tournament.”
But the Zips also have a blend of experience and youth that could be dangerous this season while setting them up for success for the foreseeable future — or at least until the end of Dambrot’s 10-year contract.
Returning are seniors Zeke Marshall (10.4 points, 5.4 rebounds per game), Brian Walsh (one of six players who averaged 8 points per game or more) and Chauncey Gilliam (6.5 points, 1.6 rebounds). The 7-foot Marshall could be poised for a monster season. Add to the mix junior point guard Alex Abreu (9.6 points, 4.8 assists) and junior forwards Nick Harney (8.3 points, 2.9 rebounds) and Demetrius Treadwell (7.2 points, 5.1 rebounds) and that’s a solid nucleus.
“We’re big and strong,” Dambrot said. “If you’re big and strong you have a chance. We have good skill at the point guard position, so we have a chance.”
But there’s that youth, too.
There’s some experience with that youth. Sophomore guards Deji Ibitayo and Blake Justice and forward Josh Egner have been in Dambrot’s system for a year.
Two talented freshmen, Ohio Division II Player of the Year Jake Kretzer and Division III Player of the Year Reggie McAdams, make it easy to see why Dambrot remains upbeat despite the loss of Quincy Diggs to a season-long suspension.
“Now what you do is mix the young guys and the young guys have learned pretty quickly, too,” Dambrot said. “We’re kind of transforming styles of play, trying to be more aggressive, so we’re spending more time on that. It’s just a matter of feeling comfortable with our roles really.”
But the prize addition might be center Pat Forsythe, a Brunswick graduate who transferred to UA from West Virginia. Forsythe recently received notice from the NCAA that he is eligible to play for the Zips this year. He adds to the team’s depth, but also gives Dambrot a big man to build around for the next several seasons.
Dambrot is happy to have Forsythe and Forsythe shares the enthusiasm.
“I’m a lot happier, closer to home and close to my family,” Forsythe said. “It’s just a whole different environment. It makes me feel more comfortable.”
He said his time at WVU was not wasted.
“It helped me to be where I am today, the strength training and everything. I’m a lot stronger. I put on 30 pounds,” he said.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.