A lot will be revealed about the University of Akron men’s basketball team in the next two weeks.
The Zips’ stretch of seven games in 15 days begins at 7 tonight, when they play Bethune-Cookman (2-10) at Rhodes Arena. The Zips are coming off another significant, albeit shorter layoff of seven days — the prior one lasted nearly three weeks. This series includes three games at home then a tournament in Hawaii and a trip to South Carolina.
The Zips (2-2) will be looking to their veteran players — the few on hand — to lead them. Coach Keith Dambrot is blunt when talking about what his team needs for success.
“I think for us to be good, [Demetrius] Treadwell and [Nick] Harney and [Nyles] Evans, have to be good,” he said last week after the 12-point victory over Cleveland State. “I think that’s pretty clear. Treadwell and Harney are two of the best talents we have. Now whether they can consistently play good is another story.”
Against the Vikings, Harney played very well, scoring 15 points. In the Zips’ two losses this season, he combined for eight points. In the two wins, he has 26.
“I feel like Nick’s stagnated a little bit for a little while, but I think sometimes guys have to go backwards to go forward and so I think he had a really good summer, pretty good fall and then started slow,” Dambrot said. “We’ve been feuding. That doesn’t help any. Sometimes when their heads get clear, they play a little bit better. He’s capable of playing really good, he’s talented.”
Dambrot knocking heads with players tends to be the rule not the exception. Former center Zeke Marshall dubbed him “El Diablo” at one point during his four years with the team.
The genesis of the tension?
Obviously it stems from Harney’s role on the team, one that has changed since the end of last season due to the return of Quincy Diggs. When point guard Alex Abreu left the team due to legal issues, Dambrot turned to Harney to run the offense, a role he embraced.
“I was just happy [Quincy] was able to play again,” Harney said after practice Tuesday. “I wouldn’t wish anyone had to go through what he had to go through, but I didn’t think that would take me off the ball as much as it did, plus with Nyles, Coach sort of forgot about me playing point, but it is what is.”
Dambrot understands the desire and encourages it.
“All good players want more, and I want more for him, too,” he said. “I feel like we need to take another jump with his game, and until we take another jump, I’m going to bump heads. It’s as simple as that.”
Perhaps the Cleveland State game represents Harney being ready to take that jump. He understands his role.
“My role changes as the personnel on the other team changes. If a team is guard heavy, it’s probably me becoming a better defender,” he said. “If they have little bigs, sometimes they look for me to score. It changes every game. I feel like I’m probably one of the most versatile players in the MAC, so I can only ask to be challenged.”
Bethune-Cookman junior guard Ricky Johnson, a St. Vincent-St. Mary graduate, will not play in the game because of a concussion.
If the Zips are to gain any momentum ahead of the Mid-American Conference schedule, they are going to have to minimize turnovers, especially late in the game. Against the Vikings, they turned the ball over five times in a little more than five minutes.
“We’ve got new guys … those are things you have to work on,” Dambrot said. “In a way, I’m glad the game got close, not too close, but close enough so we have to work on those things.”
UA Athletic Director Tom Wistrcill was given a one-year contract extension through September 2015 by the university’s trustees this week. He was not given a raise. His base salary remains $243,477. Wistrcill came to UA in September 2009 from the University of Minnesota, where he was senior associate athletic director. ... The athletic department announced Friday that track coach Dennis Mitchell was given a contract extension for two years through August 2018.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. 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.