The relationship goes back years and the roots are deep for University of Akron basketball coach Keith Dambrot and Cleveland State coach Gary Waters.
And they’re about to get a bit deeper as their teams meet again — the second game of a four-series deal — at 2 p.m. today at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland.
Dambrot and Waters have been linked by circumstance since they were toiling as assistants. When Dambrot left Eastern Michigan to take the coaching job at Ashland, Waters replaced him.
When Dambrot went on to assume the reins at Central Michigan, he eventually coached Waters’ son, Sean.
Waters coached Kent State from 1996 to 2001, leading the Golden Flashes to two Mid-American Conference titles, two NCAA Tournament appearances and one NIT appearance.
Although there’s a mutual respect evident when the men talk about one another, it will be all business today.
“I’m glad we’re playing. He’s building his program and now they’re better than we are [right now],” Dambrot said.
Waters is leading the charge to put the Vikings back on the basketball map — one they occupied briefly more than two decades ago. This season, they’re off to an impressive 9-1 start, which includes an upset win over Vanderbilt.
The Zips’ record stands at 3-4 as they continue to search for an identity. Right now, Dambrot is wary of the Vikings.
“What they do, they do really well,” he said. “They’re defensively tough.”
The key for the Vikings will be to take care of the ball, an aspect of their game that remains lacking as they average 15.1 turnovers per game. But more important is the guard play. In short: It must get better.
“They have three guards who have played a lot of big games,” Dambrot said. “Their strength is our weakness. We have experienced big kids, they have experienced guards.”
Their big weapon comes at one of the guard positions. D’Aundray Brown, who was injured last year, averages 13.4 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Two other Vikings guards — Trevon Harmon and Jeremy Montgomery — will also offer challenges for the Zips’ backcourt. But much of what makes the Vikings go, comes from Brown.
“D’Aundray Brown being hurt last year ended up helping them in the long run because it gave them another experienced, winning guy,” Dambrot said.
As much as both coaches are looking forward to their teams meeting, they’re just as interested in the way Northeast Ohio enjoys it.
“It uplifts the area. Both fan bases support it,” said Waters, who has a 7-5 record against UA. “It’s just good, wholesome competition — the same as Kent State was. I think Akron does the same.”
Dambrot calls it a natural rivalry because of geography and other factors.
“There are a lot of kids on our team that know our kids, so anything that’s good for the kids or good for the fans we should do,” he said.
One thing can prevent the series from becoming an intense rivalry — CSU’s schedule. Because of funky scheduling, the Vikings’ conference — the Horizon League — begins play earlier than most, leaving CSU little time to worry about a nonconference game, potentially stunting the growth of any rivalry.
“I don’t want to call it a rivalry because we haven’t yet got to that point. But they’re going to be some tough games in the future,” Waters said.
Rivalry or not, Dambrot appreciates the value of the game and series.
“It’s vitally important for this community regardless of who’s coaching. The teams should play, it’s good for Northeast Ohio. It’s a good battle. They’re good teams,” he said.
The UA women’s basketball team will face Florida State at 2 p.m. today, looking for their fifth consecutive win.
The Zips (8-2) have played well in their past four wins, shooting better than 50 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
Although they’ve have a balanced attack with three players averaging at least 8.6 points per game, Rachel Tecca (Archbishop Hoban) has led coach Jodi Kest’s team with 25-point efforts in the past two games.
The Zips, who last played an ACC team (Florida State) in the 2002-03 season, will be looking for their first ever win against that conference. … The Seminoles (4-5) have lost to Louisville and Ohio State, two ranked teams. They are led by Naismith Award candidate and Sandusky native Cierra Bravard, who averages 16.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://zips.ohio.com. Follow the Zips on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/Zips_ABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.