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.
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.