Things that are known commodities
Jimmy Hall. Stay tuned as this Kent State senior may just be appearing fairly high on the player preview rankings. For now, just know that Hall is a two time first team All-MAC and has been the Golden Flashes best offensive player for the past two seasons. A year ago, Hall averaged 16.4 points per game and 7.9 rebounds. I would expect those numbers to increase with the loss of a host of players to graduating.
Coach Rob Senderoff. Coach Sendy is entering his sixth season as the head man at Kent State. He brings a very stable offensive game plan and you can guarantee that his teams will work hard defensively. In three of the first five season under Coach Sendy, Kent State has finished with over 20 wins and the same could have been said a year ago if the team would have accepted a post season bid.
Unknowns for Kent State
Nearly everything else. Of the six players who averaged 20+ minutes a season ago, only Jimmy Hall remains. This iteration of the Golden Flashes, in many ways, reminds me of a Duke or Kentucky one and done type team. Obviously not in terms of pure talent, but rather just how many new players have to integrate into the team.
Thankfully most of the new players Kent State fans can expect to see the court are either talented junior college transfers that already have developed to some degree or players who sat out last season after transferring. All told, Kent State has six incoming players to add to three who redshirted a year ago.
Coach Sendy said during the Kent State media day that he didn’t even know who will start in what position, so I won’t spend to much brain power on speculating on the starters. Rather I’ll spend this section introducing some new faces along with thinking about who will get big minutes and we can learn more about the actual starting five together.
Established players on the roster:
Deon Edwin (Sr.)
Jalen Avery (So.)
Jaylin Walker (So.)
All these of these guards (all listed at 6’3” or below) saw their time fluctuate a year ago with injuries to the top guards. Deon Edwin in particular took advantage of his playing time almost doubling as the season went on by scoring in double figures against Ohio, Toledo, Western Michigan, and Buffalo. Despite being a guard, Edwin was a surprisingly strong rebounder late in the season as well.
Jaylin Walker is another player who should see major time and perhaps start for Kent State as he proved a year ago capable of filling it up. He is another guy who saw fluctuating playing time and missed a large stretch of MAC play due to injury. His big time games came against a ranked SMU and Miami where he scored 20 points in each. Coach Sendy has consistently had a volume three point shooter on his roster (Kellon Thomas last year and Derek Jackson + Dev Manley two years ago) and Walker appears poised to step into that role. Avery didn’t receive many opportunities to shoot a year ago even when he did see increased minutes. Perhaps with a year to grow, Avery could factor into the rotation as well.
Most promising new faces:
Kevin Zabo (Jr.)
Adonis De La Rosa (So.)
Taishaun Johnson (Jr.)
Desmond Ridenour (Jr.)
Leo Edwards (Jr.)
Danny Pippen (Fr.)
With a long list of transfers, it will be a difficult task to pick out the true contenders for playing time until the games starts being played. These are my most promising new additions with Kevin Zabo topping the list and perhaps starting. Two years ago Zabo saw big minutes as a reserve for San Diego St. before suffering an injury and losing his spot. He played double digit minutes against big time, opposition in Utah, Arizona, Washington, Pitt, and BYU. A year ago Zabo teamed up with another Kent State transfer Jerrelle DeBerry at Indian Hills Community College to lead them to a regional champion.
Adonis De La Rosa is the Kent State answer to Akron’s Isaiah Johnson. Yet another junior college transfer, after originally signing for St. John’s (14th ranked player in New York coming out of high school), De La Rosa is listed at 7’ and 261 pounds. Obviously we’ll have to see how he handles division one play before making any decisions, but unless Kent State opt to go small I would expect De La Rosa to see big minutes and probably start.
Competing for playing time at guard we find both Ridenour and Taishaun Johnson. Both of these guys come to Kent State after seeing the court a good deal for small division one programs. During the 2014/15 season Johnson was one of South Alabama’s best players as he averaged 12.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists. As a sophomore he had a falling out with the coaching staff and lost his spot after only five games. One of those games it should be noted include an 18 point, seven rebound effort at NC State. Ridenour played in every game during his freshman season at Duquesne in 2013/14 and despite not averaging huge numbers, he still was third on the team in assists.
Rounding out the likely front court reserves are Leo Edwards and Danny Pippen. Both are Detroit kids, but Edwards took a few pit stops along his journey to Kent State. He began his college career at Louisiana Tech. Edwards rarely saw big minutes his freshman season, but in 31 minutes combined against Syracuse and NC State, he racked up 11 rebounds. He then spent a year at Santa Fe College where he averaged 7.1 rebounds per game. I wouldn’t expect many points coming from Edwards, but he will provide a physical presence inside and might be called on to start. Pippen is a highly regarded freshman coming to Kent State and was ranked as the 13th best senior in Michigan a year ago by Prep Hoops Michigan. Much like Edwards, I wouldn’t expect Pippen to be asked to shoot much, but rather provide energy off the bench on the defensive end and on the boards.
We will learn a great deal about just how good this collection of unknown players will be early on as Kent State have a chance to play some difficult competition in the Gulf Coast showcase in late November. Matchups from that tournament could include Houston, George Mason and Wofford, all brand name mid-majors. Other highlights from the non-conference include trips to Oregon State and Texas.
In the early going I would expect the offense to revolve around Jimmy Hall and depending on how these talented incoming players mesh, I believe they could challenge for the MAC East. Coach Sendy admitted that the high amount of turnover creates plenty of question marks and thankfully, Kent State has time to figure out a solid rotation against quality competition before MAC play begins. Because of the track record of Rob Senderoff and having perhaps the best player in the conference, I would expect Kent State to have a shot at a 20 win season and perhaps a conference title.