AUBURN HILLS, Mich.: For those looking for NCAA Tournament experience from the University of Akron, there’s only one person to turn to — senior Zeke Marshall.
He is the only member of the team who has appeared in the big dance, back in 2011 when he was a sophomore. The change for him is obvious.
“I wasn’t truly ready. Right now I am ready. Right now this team is ready,” he said. “I feel like we’re more talented than in my sophomore year. I feel like we’re more aggressive. I feel like we’re a better team. I feel like our confidence and chemistry are even better.”
He offered some words of wisdom for his teammates experiencing the tournament for the first time.
“Play like we’ve been playing. This is nothing like any other game. We just need to go out there and play,” he said. That’s basically what it is. How we played this regular season. How we played together. It’s no different other than it’s on the bigger stage.”
Current UA vice president Jim Tressel’s visit with the team before they departed for Michigan didn’t go unappreciated by the team.
Tressel, who coached the Ohio State Buckeyes to a national championship in 2002, knows something about winning big games.
But he didn’t speak directly about sports, forward Chauncey Gilliam said. He provided words of encouragement.
“Nothing that really had to do with basketball. It had to do with being strong minded, being tough when it comes to adversity, just things we’ve been talking about for the last several days,” he said.
Junior forward Demetrius Treadwell was also impressed.
“I felt it was an honor that he even came in and spoke to us,” he said. “ He gave us some words of encouragement about tomorrow and playing in games like this.”
Nike also sent the Zips some props after they won the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
They sent out a graphic image via the Internet that the athletic marketing department released.
With the team’s ties to the athletic apparel company via Akron’s LeBron James’ relationship with coach Keith Dambrot, it shouldn’t be a surprise.
“I would assume so, but you never know,” Dambrot said. “Maybe they do it on their own. That would be something huh?”
The gesture impressed the players.
“We need something like that honestly,” Treadwell said.
Tickets snapped up
Director of athletics Tom Wistrcill said UA asked for 200 more tickets after their initial allotment of 350 and all were quickly sold, probably because Auburn Hills is about a 3½-hour drive from Akron. But he expects more fans than that.
“I’m sure people are getting tickets by other means,” Wistrcill said. “Some even called South Dakota State.”
This is UA’s fourth NCAA appearance and the closest to UA. The others were in Minneapolis (1986), Portland, Ore. (2009) and Chicago (2011).
The VCU Rams didn’t seem fazed that the Zips have three-time NBA MVP LeBron James rooting for them.
“They’ve got LeBron James, we’ve got Spike Lee,” VCU senior guard Darius Theus said. “No, I’m messing. That’s fine, you know, LeBron isn’t on the court with them.”
Film director Lee went to Morehouse College and New York University Film School. But he did speak at VCU on Feb. 21 in celebration of Black History Month.
“It’s OK with me that LeBron’s rooting for Keith. That’s no problem just as long as he doesn’t suit up,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said.
“If he’d have gone to college, he always says Ohio State. But there might have been a good chance if Keith had been the coach at the time that he might have gone to Akron.”
Dan Hipsher was the UA coach in 2003 when James was drafted first overall.
Dambrot introduced the Zips’ team psychologist to some of the CBS crew and said, ‘‘This is the guy who saved our team.” … The Zips had to sit through a 25-minute NCAA video on gambling after they arrived Tuesday, putting a damper on their excitement. “That was definitely the low point of our trip here,” senior forward Chauncey Gilliam said. “It’s crazy. As a mid-major program we don’t really deal with stuff like that. It was kind of a joke to us. Talking about the campus bookie. There is no campus bookie at the University of Akron.” Asked if he was sure about that, Gilliam said, “I don’t think so.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com.