Thursday, February 27, 2014

Alumni Spotlight: Nate Reinking

Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE
Many former Kent State basketball players are still involved in the game in some manner. Some go on to professional careers across the globe with varying levels of success. Once their playing days are finished, many have chosen to give back to the game that has given them so much throughout their life and join the coaching ranks.

This is true of former Golden Flash Nate Reinking (’96), who concluded his 16-year pro career in Europe at the 2012 London Olympics, where he was a member of Great Britain’s National Team. He broke into the coaching ranks an assistant coach for Great Britain, making his debut at the European Championships in Slovenia this past summer. In October, he was hired as an assistant coach with the NBA D-League’s CantonCharge, which is owned by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

I spoke with Nate after a recent Charge game, and here is what he had to say about his new job.

Tell me about your transition from being a player to the coaching side of things.

It’s been good so far. [Head] coach [Steve Hetzel] has been good to work with here. He’s given me a taste of both sides. I can still practice a little bit. But just learning the other side of the ropes has been a bit of a transition. As a player, you kind of react more to the game and now you’re thinking more rather than just reacting. So you have to think for 5 guys out on the court instead of being out there and playing.

What are some of your main duties in your role with the Charge?

We do a lot of player development at this level. Coach has us splitting up scouts, so we each have our own scouts to do. We prepare for a team just as you would any other time. He’s really good at giving responsibility to all of us.

How did you land a job coaching in the D-League?

I’m from the area. My connection to Canton was Joe Prunty, who used to be an assistant coach with the Cavs. I coached with him with the British National Team this past summer. He introduced me to Mike Gansey, who is running the Charge as the GM. After meeting him and meeting Steve, I knew I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to get started.

Your staff  here in Canton was selected to coach the ‘Futures’ team in the D-League All-Star Game earlier in the month. What was that experience like?

It was a great experience. New Orleans is a great city. We had a lot of fun. Just being around that atmosphere with all of the best players from the NBA and the D-League down there at the same time, it was just a good vibe everywhere you went.

Do you still follow Kent State and the success of the program?

I talked to Coach Senderoff last season and saw a couple practices. I try to stay in touch and see as much as I can up there. I’m a Golden Flash at heart, so as much as I can, I will always be a part of that program.

Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Revisionist's Preview of Sophomore Class

By Jay Fiorello
Assistant Director, Athletic Communications

The expanded roles that Kent State's sophomores have seen in recent weeks is not a surprise to me. While many did not know what to expect from them, I had a behind-the-scenes preview of this year's team.

Head coach Rob Senderoff kindly allowed for me to accompany the team on its foreign trip to the Bahamas in August, and I was also present at both of the team's closed pre-season scrimmages. I remember telling Ty Linder that I could see the team winning the MAC East without a single 1st team all-conference selection due to its balance and depth (see the 2007-08 Xavier team).

The team's sophomores really intrigued me. In fact, I spoke to Coach Senderoff and a few of the players back in October for a feature story about how the sophomore class could be the X-factor for Kent State's success this season.

Two of the players I spoke with were point guard Kellon Thomas and forward Chris Ortiz, who both scored a career-high 17 points to lead the Golden Flashes to victory over Central Michigan this past Saturday.

While the story never published, here is some of what Thomas and Ortiz had to say going into the season...

Kellon Thomas 

What do you see as your role on the team this season?

"I think my role has increased a little bit. I need to bring lot of energy, be vocal, make plays for others, and be a big defensive stopper for this team."

You had surgery in the off-season, which prevented from participating in any on-court activities with the team over the summer. What did you work on during that time to become a better player and be ready for the season?

"I was in the weight room a lot. I did some bike trying to get my conditioning back up. And mainly, by sitting out, I was able to see the game more. I saw more plays, where I need to improve and where the team needs to improve. So I just worked on being more vocal and more of a leader. It’s been about a month since I started practicing again. Once I get out there and start playing, I feel good.

Chris Ortiz 

What do you see as your role on the team this season?

"My role on this team this year is to bring a bunch of energy off the bench, rebounding, playing defense, and backing up Darren, helping out when he’s not in the game."

You were in the starting lineup and playing well before injuring your foot last November and never seemed comfortable once you returned. Do you expect to return to that early-season form this year?

"I’m about 10 times more confident than I was last year. I still participated in league play and saw what it took. Playing on that injury gave me a lot of confidence. When I’m 100%, I feel like I can do a lot more with my body now."

How will your experience with the Puerto Rican National Team over the summer help you this season?

"Being around a bunch of pro guys who actually do this for a living, I was able to learn a lot of different perspectives. They helped me learned a lot of different positions defensively. On the pro level, the game is much faster. But now I come back and the college game is a little bit slower. I can see plays before they happen, and that’s going to be my advantage this year with the team."

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Senderoff looks at the development of the sophomores

Posted by David Carducci
Director of New Media

I just spent some time visiting with head coach Rob Senderoff. We talked about his sophomore starters, their development, and how they are helping to put Kent State in a position to win now while also build for the future.

We have started Kellon Thomas in the last five games, Khaliq Spicer the last five games and Chris Ortiz in the last two games.

The last time we had two sophomores in the starting lineup was when Rodriquez Sherman and Chris Singletary started in 2006-07. So, we’ve had at least three sophomores start the last two games, and that will continue today against Central Michigan.

We haven’t had three sophomores start together in probably over 20 years here at Kent State. We are doing that now for one because Kellon, Khaliq and Chris have worked very hard and are helping us win games. And the other reason we are doing it is that playing those three is helping them get some valuable experience.

The roles of guys like Kellon, Khaliq and Chris are definitely bigger than I expected them to be at the start of the season. We have generally been upper-class dominant here at Kent State with freshmen and sophomores getting a taste and helping out, but relying on the juniors and seniors to carry most of the load. I think that’s part of the reason we have been able to stay successful for such a long period of time without having big dips.

Playing these younger guys will help our program down the road, but it is also helping our program right now. In the Eastern Michigan game, our starters shot 13-for-26 from the field. That unit included Chris, Khaliq and Kellon. Our subs didn’t do what we needed them to do, and those guys were upperclassmen.

But then this past game against Bowling Green, upperclassmen like Derek Jackson, Dev Manley and Mark Henniger came off of the bench and had a huge impact. We wouldn’t have won without them. So, ultimately we need everyone to play well for us to be successful. I started the season saying that. We are now in February and I’m still saying that. Until everyone plays well, it’s going to be a struggle. But we are battling through and we’ve won a couple of these close games while our young guys continue to make strides. As the season goes on, I think you’ll see some of the young guys put up some big games.

Remember, Kellon Thomas missed six months this offseason. He was a freshman who played in every game last season and helped us. He also started when we played at Nebraska and Youngstown State when we played on the road and won. Then he missed six months where he couldn’t practice or play in our foreign trip. He didn’t really start workouts until the season started, so a lot of the development you count on between your freshman and sophomore years didn’t happen. He is only now starting to get that confidence while his conditioning is getting better. He is finishing well at the basket. He is playing fearless. He is starting to get his assist-to-turnover ratio back down. He is developing into an on-and-off-the-court leader, which is what you need at that position.

Chris Ortiz has been helped by the fact that he is not relying on his shooting. He hasn’t shot it very well since he got hurt as a freshman last year at Youngstown State. He started out that freshman year very strong, got hurt and never really got himself back. This year he has worked very hard to get back. He is playing more because he is not just relying on offense and his shooting to dictate how hard he plays. That’s something you have to learn as you play. He started a few games before this stretch, and one of them was at Buffalo when I felt he didn’t play as hard in the second half as we needed him to after playing great in the first half. Again, he didn’t have the energy we needed against Western Michigan. When that has happened with younger guys in the past here, we could afford to sit them down and they could learn from not playing, ‘ok, I have to play harder.’

But now we need Chris to learn while playing this year. And he has. When you look at his shot selection, he isn’t relying on shooting as many threes. He is attacking the rim a little more and relying on his energy, athleticism and activity level. He took a huge step forward against Bowling Green. Statistically you may look at his line and think, well, he had a couple turnovers and shot 1-for-4. Yes, that needs to get better and we’ll continue to work on those things with him. But there was a point in the game when we could see he was visibly fatigued from playing a number of minutes in a row. He fought through that fatigue and got a big traffic rebound that started a fast break for us. That’s the growth we want to see from these guys. We needed him to fight through to get to the media timeout. He needed to fight through it. As a freshman he wouldn’t have been able to fight through it. Against Buffalo he didn’t fight through it. But Chris now is fighting through it.

I’m proud of Khaliq with the way he is affecting shots at the rim. We haven’t had that in a little while here. Right now he is third or fourth in league play in blocked shots. At the start of the year, Khaliq had gotten himself up to 218 pounds. He has lost a little bit of that weight during the course of the season, though. We need to address that in the offseason. What can we do to help guys like Khaliq get stronger and not lose weight during the season. We will address that during the season.

Khaliq had played more after eight games this season than he had all of last season. Now his minutes are continuing to go up. His 26 minutes vs. Eastern Michigan were the most he has ever played in a game. He is showing some real signs of improvement. We still need Khaliq to rebound better. He had a 13-rebound game earlier in the year. We need him to do that more consistently. Khaliq is a phenomenal kid. He is great to be around. We’d love to see him get a meaner streak on the court, and that’s something we are working on with him. He also needs to get better at the foul line.

While Khaliq is not as consistent as we would like him to be, I also can’t forget the fact that he is a sophomore. When John Edwards was a redshirt sophomore here, he didn’t have a double-figure game in points or rebounds. Khaliq has already had 13 rebounds in a game. He had eight points against Seton Hall. He had eight points, four rebounds and four blocks all against Toledo. He has had some moments. I’m just asking him more than he is probably ready to do right now. That’s the situation we are in right now, and he will continue to grow from it. Our team will be better for it. The experience of starting right now will help him and, again, it is going to make us better in the future.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Practice at the Detroit Pistons facility

By David Carducci
Director of New Media

Kent State’s men’s basketball team spent Thursday night practicing at the Detroit Pistons practice facility in Auburn Hills, Mich.

I talked with Golden Flashes head coach Rob Senderoff today about his team’s opportunity get a rare taste of what it is like behind the scenes in the NBA.
Senderoff and assistant
Eric Haut before practice

Here’s what Senderoff had to say:

“With a long five-day road trip to Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan, we thought it would be good for our guys to get that experience. The connection that made it possible was George David, who is a the assistant general manager with the Detroit Pistons. I have known him for a long time and we are good friends. 

“The NBA used to have a rule that would have prevented us from playing at the facility of one of their teams. But that recently changed.

“I think the visit and practicing on that floor was a good experience for our guys. They got to see how dedicated NBA players are, to see the facility and to see the Detroit Pistons championship trophies. The whole experience was better than practicing at Eastern Michigan for two straight days. 

“When we got there, the whole Pistons team had just gotten in from a long road trip and a couple of the coaches and the front office were still in the building at 8 p.m. to welcome us, which was really nice. We really appreciated the opportunity to visit and to practice there.”

Davis, president of basketball operations Joe Dumars and assistant coach Henry Bibby were among the Pistons officials on hand to welcome the Golden Flashes to their facility.

Photos by Jay Fiorello, assistant sports information director

Pistons assistant coach and former NBA star Henry Bibby
talks with Senderoff as Kent State starts practice

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Returning to Mount Pleasant to play former school

By Derek Jackson
Junior, Guard

Derek Jackson at shoot-
around on Wednesday.

We have a game tonight against Central Michigan, which is where my college career started. I played here for two years and haven’t been up here in a long time. It’s kind of weird coming back to play against my old school.

Tonight’s game is definitely one of the dates I had circled back when our schedule came out. There aren’t any bad feelings or anything towards the school, but I definitely want to play well against them and have a good game.

There are only 2 guys I played with who are still on the team—Austin Keel and Zach Saylor. The coaching staff is completely different from when I was here and they brought in a lot of their own players.

But I’m just here to play and help my team get a win. I don’t have any bad feelings for them or anything, but this is a business trip and I want to get a win just like every other game we play.

Last night, we went straight to the arena for some shooting after we got up here. When I first walked in the gym, it felt funny to see the gym and everything setup the way it was when I played here. It took a few seconds for it to click that I was there as part of the visiting team since it was my home court for two years.

I was able to find my spots on the court here I like to shoot from back when I played here. I think me playing here and knowing the court will help me a lot tonight and help our team as well.

We had shootaround this morning back at the arena. When we finished up, I heard a voice call my name and it was Coach Guevara, who is the head women’s coach here. She said didn’t know I was at Kent State and that its good I’m back at home and playing. Then she wished me luck and that was it.

It was cool for her to come talk to me and make me feel welcome, but I don’t know if the crowd tonight will be as nice. One of my teammates I played with came back here last year and he said they booed him. So I don’t know what to expect from the crowd tonight. If they do boo me, I kind of like that and think that I’ll be able to feed off that a little bit.

One Long Trip to Central and Eastern Michigan

By David Carducci
Director of New Media

The Kent State men's basketball team is on the road for its longest trip of the Mid-American Conference season with stops at Central Michigan tonight and Eastern Michigan on Saturday.

Equipment loaded into team bus

The five-day trip started off Tuesday with a long, six-hour bus trip to Mount Pleasant. Lunch is always waiting for us when we board the bus at the M.A.C. Center, and like most teams, movies help us pass the time while we travel to each visiting town. The Rush Hour and Bad Boys movies are player favorites, with coaches mixing in movies like Captain Phillips from time to time.

Darren Goodson arrives at the M.A.C.
Center to catch team bus to Michigan
After a short stop for dinner, the Kent State team bus rolled in to the McGuirk Arena at around 8:30 p.m. for a short practice that opened with Darren Goodson beating head coach Rob Senderoff in a free-throw shooting competition as the rest of the Kent State players were pulling on their practice gear.

The pre-practice Goodson vs. Senderoff battles from the foul line have become a staple of every road trip with coach getting the better of player most of the time. Tuesday night's win led to a celebration by Goodson that was almost as animated as his dash to the south stands on Saturday night when he beat Akron University on a banked-in, 28-foot three-pointer with 1.6 seconds on the clock.

Radio voice Ty Linder and trainer
Brad Pruett wait for lunch on team bus
"I never beat him at free throws," said Goodson. "We've done this probably 20 times now, and I think I've only beaten him once before tonight."

On Tuesday, Goodson and Senderoff both made 8-of-10, forcing five extra shots with Goodson making four compared to the the coach's three.

Goodson stayed on a roll as he sank a shot from half court during practice as the Flashes moved form one drill to another.

After practice, we checked into the team hotel with players meeting late to go over film on Central Michigan.

Pre-practice battle of free throws: Goodson vs. Senderoff
Today is a typical game day schedule:

10:15 a.m. ... breakfast

11:45 a.m. ... depart for McGuirk Arena for a 12-to-1 p.m. shootaround

2:45 p.m. ... Film study with a personnel edit and a pre game meal.

Then a little after 5 p.m. we will head back to McGuirk to face Central Michigan.

We stay in Mount Pleasant again tonight before leaving for Ypsilanti on Thursday morning.

With that extra day on the road, Kent State's coaches were able to schedule a practice Thursday afternoon at the Detroit Pistons practice facility.

It will also a busy study day with two academic counselors along for the trip to keep players focused on their schoolwork.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Lawrence Offers Words of Encouragement, Predicts Goodson's Big Shot

By Marquiez Lawrence
Freshman, Forward

When Darren came to the bench after he picked up his 4th foul, I told him “Keep your head up because it's not over. We're gonna be calling on you and I know you’re gonna hit the game-winning shot.”
And he just went out there and did just that. He kept his head up after going back in, scored 8 straight points and hit the game-winner.

Our whole team has a lot of confidence in Darren. He's the heart of the team. We play through him, not just on the court but emotionally as well. If Darren gets fired up, it tends to carry through to everybody on the team. Every day in practice, he's the main one telling everybody to keep their head up. Sometimes, you have to let him know the same thing and that’s what I was trying to do. I haven’t played as much this year as I wanted to, but am trying to help the team win any way I can.

Saturday was my first experience being part of the rivalry and his shot is something I'll never forget. It's the first time I've ever been part of a game like that. We didn’t just play for us in that game. We played for all of Kent State University. Coach Sendy kept telling us how it important it was to win for all of our alumni and everybody that has something to do with Kent State.