Are the Flashes really a “young team,” as coach Danny O’Banion likes to say? “Burden,” one of the top commenters on the Flash Fanatics bulletin board, points out that in the team’s top nine include three seniors (center Cici Shannon, forward Montia Johnson and point guard Mikell Chinn), a junior (guard-wing Melanie Stubbs) and two sophomores (guard Krista White and wing Larissa Lurken).
What O’Baniion says she means is that the players lack both Division I experience land Kent State experience. No player has more than three semesters of games in O’Banion’s system. Shannon has the most experience — two years at Southern Illinois, a transfer year she sat out at Kent State, last year and this semester. Johnson and Chinn are junior college transfers, starting at Kent State last fall.
Stubbs played as a freshman under Bob Lindsay and as a sophomore under O’Banion. She sat out last year with a knee injury. During her sophomore season, she started 10 of 28 games.
Lurken was the top recruit in O’Banion’s first true freshman class (more on that later) and started every game last year when she wasn’t injured. White wasn’t a big star in high school and started six of 30 games last season.
So here’s what we end up with in terms of Division I experience:
- Shannon: 39 games, 35 starts, averaging 26 minutes at Kent State. At Southern Illinois, she appeared in 60 games, starting 25. She had one season of practice at Kent State when she was ineligible because of transfer rules.
- Johnson: 39 games, 24 starts, averaging 26 minutes. Junior college transfer from Cowley College in Kansas, where she was a J.C. All-American honorable mention.
- Chinn: 36 games, 20 starts,, averaging 24 minutes.
- Stubbs: 55 games, 11 starts. She’s averaged 15 minutes a game this year. I don’t have minutes from her first two years, but they’d average out less than that.
- Lurken: 32 games, 28 starts, averaging about 29 minutes.
- White: 37 games, 13 starts, averaging 30 minutes this year and 13 last year.
So far this year’s four freshmen have a total of 28 games, 10 starts and are averaging a total of about 19 minutes per game each. And we need to add in sophomore Janae Peterson, who’s been sick and hurt and played only three minutes this year. Last year she played 26 games, started six, averaging 13 minutes.
That leaves us with a team that has (not counting Shannon’s SIU games):
- 292 games, 131 starts, and about 6,727 game minutes
Let’s compare that to Akron, the defending MAC tournament champion. The Zips are 9-0 but lost three starters, including their leading two scorers, from that season. It’s also a young team in the classic sense — it has only one senior (leading scorer Sina King). Here are the Akron totals:
- 485 games, 155 starts, 7,296 game minutes.
One last one: Central Michigan, probably the best team in the MAC. Here’s a team with five seniors (though one is a transfer).
- 556 games, 304 starts, 11,569 game minutes.
So I think we can definitely say that yes, Kent State is a young team, based on game experience.
How did this happen?
There were essentially two lost years when Bob Lindsay was fired. Lindsay’s last good year game in 2010-11, when the Flashes started five seniors and went 20-10. In 2011-12, Lindsay went 6-21. He had brought in five freshmen; only Stubbs is still on the team. The best freshman went back to France when her father got cancer. A freshman started every game at point guard but never clicked with O’Banion and transferred. The other two freshmen had health and injury problems and never worked out.
O’Banion arrived in mid-April, and the recruiting season was long over. Lindsay’s best recruit, Miriam Justinger, asked to be released from her commitment to Kent and went to Bowling Green, where she has started 56 games on two championship teams. A second verbal commitment backed out right before the fall signing period (long before Lindsay was fired) and went to Ohio State. A third never was academically eligible. A fourth came for her freshman year, played as a reserve, got hurt the next fall, and transferred back to a college in Minnesota. There was talk of another who got tired of waiting for a new coach to be named.
In that first month, O’Banion recruited Ashley Evans and Amber Dunlap, two junior college players. They anchored the team for two years, but you know that if a J.C. player is still around in April, she’s not blue chip. That same spring, Shannon transferred in but wasn’t eligible for O’Banion’s first year.
O’Banion did find guard Rachel Mendelsohn, who had gotten out of her commitment to St. Louis when the coach there was fired. Mendelsohn was an all-state point guard in Oregon. She started seven games as a freshman and was the first guard off of the bench last year. This year she blew out her knee in late fall and will miss the year.
In O’Banion’s second year, she brought in Lurken, a high-scoring guard from Minnesota; White, a defensive specialist from Dayton; Emily Leonard, a 6-2 forward from Dayton, and Peterson, a 6-foot center-forward from California. Leonard was a project and left the team after her freshman year. Peterson, who put up big numbers on a weak high school team, was the first post player off the bench last year but has been sick and hurt this year. In short, it was not a particularly strong class.
This year’s freshman class was supposed to be special and may yet be. It lost one member — 6-3 post player Lydia Poe — to homesicknesses before the school year started. Guard-wing Tyra James, who was a big scorer her senior year in high school, was hurt in pre-season and won’t play until next year. Madison Ridout was a big scorer in high school and has shown flashes in 15 minutes a game. Korinek, who was supposed to be the best post player in Ohio Division II, has started six games and Cross has started two.
O’Banion has a five-member freshman class coming in that looks good on paper. Megan Carter, a 5-7 guard from North Farmington High School in Michigan, has just been named one of the top 30 players in the state. Merissa Berber-Smith is a 6-3 center who has been rated one of the top 50 players in Wisconsin. Kent has commitments from another 6-3 post player and two other guards.
The problem with all this:
Kent graduates three seniors. It has only one junior. It will be a young team for at least another two years.