Kent State basketball coach Rob Senderoff isn’t looking to defend his former players as much as he’s simply looking forward to the future. But if the subject’s brought up, he’s quick to do both.
Kent State wrapped up a 21-12 season that is widely considered a “disappointment.” Senderoff is on the road recruiting in preparation for basketball’s first signing period during the second week of April.
With the 73-58 loss last week against South Carolina Upstate in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament still fresh in the minds of many, Senderoff defended his underachieving senior group.
“If a 21-12 record that includes one of the school’s biggest road wins [at West Virginia] makes for a disappointing season, then expectation levels must be at an all-time high,” Senderoff said during an airport layover en route to Texas. “Heck, there’s 11 schools in the league that are disappointed they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament because only one [Ohio University, which has advanced to the Sweet 16 round] is still playing. It’s not just us.”
Three of the four seniors entered the season after winning an award as juniors. Forward Justin Greene was the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, guard Michael Porrini was the Defensive Player of the Year and guard Carlton Guyton was the Sixth Man of the Year.
Teamed with 6-foot-11 senior forward Justin Manns and junior guard Randal Holt, it appeared that Senderoff’s first team was destined to go far.
Instead, they fell prey to injuries, and too much individual play and not enough team play became a problem late in the season. The Flashes failed to claim a third consecutive MAC regular-season crown and then were knocked out of the league tournament by the University Akron in the semifinals. It was the third loss of the season to the Zips
“[Porrini] had preseason knee surgery and was hurt all year with a foot injury that required special orthotics halfway through the season,” Senderoff said. “Justin Greene suffered an ankle injury toward the end of the season, but only missed one game while gutting it out, [sixth-man Eric] Gaines was out for six weeks with a knee injury, [Kris] Brewer was hurt at the beginning of the season and Guyton was hurt for a period of time. It went on and on.
“It’s very easy for somebody on the outside to pass judgment on these kids, but they don’t know how hard they worked. Most players probably wouldn’t have played the last two weeks of the season with a sprained ankle, but Justin Greene did.”
Greene finished his career fourth on the Flashes’ all-time scoring list with 1,545 points and second with 814 rebounds and 120 blocks.
Senderoff’s attention now has turned to hunting for a post player to help replace the production of Greene and, to a lesser extent, Manns.
“We’re losing a ton of rebounding, and I feel that physically, we’re a little behind where we need to be in the post compared to the other schools in the league,” he said. “So we definitely need another interior guy. There are a couple post players we’re focusing on now. I need to get one.”
Holt, who will be a senior captain, is the only returning player with a lock on a starting spot next season. Athletic forward Chris Evans, who became a valuable sixth man, will have to battle it out in the preseason along with 6-foot-8 junior college transfer Chris Ortiz.
“[Ortiz] is really athletic, but he’s not quite the freak athlete that Evans is,” Senderoff said. “I’d compare him more to the mold of a player like [former KSU forward] Mike Scott.”
Others in the mix for starting spots include forward Mark Henniger and guards Devareaux Manley and Bryson Pope (a player from Tulsa who sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules).
“There’s a ton of work we need to go through in the offseason,” Senderoff said. “The work they put in and their production will be the deciding factors on who starts. I’m handing nothing to anybody this year. They have to work to earn it.”
The Flashes are looking to halt a four-game losing streak they sustained in California this past week. They return home today to open the MAC schedule with a three-game weekend series against Northern Illinois (5-16).
After playing some of the tougher teams in the country during the nonconference portion of its schedule, Kent State brings its .684 conference winning percentage under eighth-year coach Scott Stricklin into play at 3 p.m. against the Huskies.
Kent State will start ace left-hander David Starn today. Starn (Walsh Jesuit) is 3-2 with a 1.60 ERA and leads the Flashes with 31 strikeouts in 33‚ innings in his first five appearances. Starn is 24 strikeouts away from passing Dirk Hayhurst’s school record.