In our Trippin' series we're talking to teams as they return from preseason trips to foreign locales. Click here for all Trippin' related stories.
By Matt Norlander
Akron's among the best mid-major teams that you never think about. The Zips have had a healthy run the past seven years under head coach Keith Dambrot. They reached the NCAAs last season, falling to 2 seed Notre Dame in the second round.
The team just got done with its Canadian trip to Toronto and Montreal. The Zips went 5-0 in their exhibitions. Nice -- even if that didn't mean too, too much. Dambrot's a pretty level guy, by the way. When talking to him about his group, he didn't seem as reactive to what'd transpired on his trip the way other coaches do. Maybe that's why he's been able to average well over 20 wins since 2005.
What Dambrot learned: "Well, we have a lot to learn. We're behind mentally from the teams we've had in the past, but we're more athletic than we've been. We still have to figure out the rotation."
What impressed him: "We played hard defensively and shared the ball well offensively. I was glad to be able to get six new guys out there to play." Yes, Akron will bring in six green guys to the roster this season. It's a turnover Dambrot hasn't dealt with in some time.
What concerned him: "Just the lack of being game-tested. We lost four guys who've been in four straight MAC title games." Two of those players are playing professionally. Steve McNees is now in Austria and Brett McKnight, a leading scorer for four years, signed in Germany.
-- Freshman Nick Harney led the team in scoring, Dambrot said. The other two standouts were Chauncey Gilliam (a transfer from Maryland-Baltimore County) and Brian Walsh (a Xavier transfer).
-- The good news is the team has no major injuries it's dealing with. Everyone's healthy, Dambrot said, save for one minor wrist injury which won't be an issue in the coming weeks.
-- The Zips also lose, in addition to McNees and McKnight, Darryl Roberts and Mike Bardo. Roberts was really key, as he was a very disciplined and very reliable point guard for Dambrot. All told, it's about 45 percent of the team's minutes played from last year are up for grabs.
-- If the team is going to thrive, it's going to have to ride Nikola Cvetinovic. Now, Cvetinovic did not make the trip with the team, but it wasn't disciplinary; he's currently playing in the World University Games for his home country, Serbia. Because of the Games, in fact, Akron went against all-star teams that didn't have true all-star rosters -- many a player is currently playing in the event in China.
-- There are only three seniors on this year's team -- Cvetinovic, Brett McClanahan (who will move from small forward to shooting guard) and Kyle Petersen -- and they'll all see playing time. Dambrot said he's got a good idea of the starting lineup. Cvetinovic and McClanahan will line up with junior 7-footer Zeke Marshall, sophomore point guard Alex Abreu and junior forward Quincy Diggs.
-- Dambrot ended by saying his team's ability and confidence can be seen in his seven-year run. He won't change his strategy, even with a lot of experience gone. What he is concerned about is the strength in the MAC's East division. HE admitted the Zips probably have "the least amount of impact players coming back ... so it's no definite thing."