What To Expect From Kennesaw State Basketball

Well the simple answer to what to expect from Kennesaw State basketball this year is: I don’t know.

The men and women’s programs have made waves since the end of last season and mostly for the wrong reasons, but that is a can of worms that has been opened and hopefully shut by now. The bright side of things has to lie with the men’s team landing former National Coach of the Year, Al Skinner, to lead to downtrodden program.

Yonel Brown is expected to carry the load

Yonel Brown

Kennesaw State’s roster – coaching staff as well — has been a revolving door since Tony Ingle left the school. This year will be no different with a new staff in place and five newcomers joining just six players from last year’s team. Official practice began last Friday and back is senior point guard Yonel Brown who exploded onto the scene after two pedestrian years. Brown finished third in the A-Sun and led the Owls in scoring with 15.2 points per game. Six-foot-seven forward Nigel Pruitt also blossomed into a reliable player and returns for his senior year as well after scoring 12.2 points a night, good for second-best on the team.

Nigel Pruitt

Nigel Pruitt

New Faces

Metro Atlanta hasn’t exactly been pounded for recruiting yet, but Skinner did land a potential gem in Tracy Hector. The 6-foot-4, 212-pound swingman won back-to-back state championships at Jonesboro High School. As a senior, Hector averaged over 12 points and six rebounds a game, but he made a name for himself with his tenacious defense.

Tracy Hector

Tracy Hector

He is a strong athlete that can lock down ball handlers with his ‘in-your-face’ defense while offensively; he attacks the bucket and goes after every loose ball.

Kyle Clarke is another new addition to the backcourt, standing 6-foot-5 as a combo guard. Clarke hails from Florida and has shown a knack for getting into the lane on offense.

Skinner went overseas to land Josh Burnett, another guard that can play forward, from Hawaii. Kosta Jankovic and Aubrey Williams round out the new faces on the roster while Quinnipiac transfer Kendrick Ray is finally eligible to play after having to sit out a season.

Better Times On The Horizon?

So with a new coaching staff and turned over roster, can we expect KSU to take the next step in becoming a respectable program and not just another cupcake on everyone’s schedule? We will know right away. After a home tilt with Middle Georgia, Kennesaw hits the road to play Alabama, LSU and Arizona State. West Virginia, Louisville and Indiana all loom on the schedule as well. The Owls will definitely take some lumps, but coach Skinner needs to see what kind of mettle his team has when facing adversity to be able to find out if his group improves from game to game or if they take beatings and not learn anything from them like they haven’t in the past.

The one positive for KSU is that the A-Sun continues to get weaker and weaker each season with the top programs getting plucked by bigger conferences seemingly every year. This time it is Northern Kentucky, who has only been a D-1 program for three seasons going on four now, that was added to the Horizon League. Meanwhile, Kennesaw State has sat and stewed in the A-Sun since 2005-06 and has yet to make it out of the annual cellar.

NJIT joins the conference, coming off its best record in school history since joining D-1 the same year as KSU, winning 21 games in 2014.

Under coach Skinner, Kennesaw should at least be a competitive team. Losses to conference foes by 36 points should be a thing of the past by now. When watching the Owls play these power conference teams early in the season, losses to annual juggernauts Indiana and Louisville are acceptable. But if KSU lays an egg against an average power conference team like Alabama like they did against Syracuse (89-42), Cal (93-59) and Illinois (93-45) last year, then there is reason to be concerned.

Is there reason to be optimistic this year? Yes there is, but if the team can’t stay competitive with the big schools early on (L by < 30), don’t expect much come conference play.

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What Football Means To Kennesaw State

The weather is starting to cool down, the air is beginning to get a little crisp. That can mean only one thing: College Football is here and more importantly, a new tradition will begin in Kennesaw, Ga.

Just eight days from now, Kennesaw State University will kick off its first ever football game. What a ride it has been to get here. Founded in October of 1963, the long arduous journey to blossom into something special and gain the respect of neighboring schools and nationally is finally starting to come to fruition.

Kennesaw State is no longer a joke. The ribs and jabs of calling it “High School 2.0” or “13th Grade” is over and has always been a fabricated over exaggeration. Students in the area complain about it being a small school, they whine that it is too close to home, they laugh about the athletics program not having a football team and they scoff at the idea of Kennesaw having a night life.

Sorry, but the worm has turned. Kennesaw State is not some nobody school in the middle of nowhere. It is less than an hour away from the internationally known metropolis of Atlanta. If the city is your thing, you are right there within arm’s reach. Heart of the city not your style? Don’t worry, you still have that hour cushion and don’t have to mess with driving through downtown.

“The school is too small.” KSU is closing in on 33,000 students. That’s right. I didn’t add an extra 3. Kennesaw is knocking on the door of becoming the LARGEST school in the state of Georgia and with football coming, possibly a revitalized basketball program with a former NATIONAL COACH OF THE YEAR and an expanding campus, the sky is the limit for the unknown gem of the south which features a beautiful campus.

And yes, I might have mentioned, Kennesaw State will be fielding a football team. The memories that will be made here will be countless and the students and alumni will be visiting Fifth Third Bank Stadium in droves. Myself, a May 2015 graduate, will just have missed out on all the fun. Will I be able to attend some games? Who knows. A busy work schedule which often leaks into the weekend will most likely prevent me from going to games and also the growing distance between myself and friends in the area will play a factor.

But for those who live in the area or go to school still, this is a golden era of Kennesaw State. Every time I drive past campus, there are new buildings being constructed and new projects in the works. New exits are being built to bring you directly into the heart of Kennesaw. Who would have thought that 20 years ago?

The growth of KSU is constant

The growth of KSU is constant

Football brings a feeling of hope and optimism in the air. Major sports can do that. Sports are not just players lining up playing a game. They are student-athletes doing something they have strived to do for years and realizing the achievement of playing college ball, a goal they have had since they were three and four years old, is something they can never have taken away from them.

Sports bring people, cultures and communities together. It is a rallying point. In war torn countries, groups visit and bring soccer balls or footballs or anything with them to get the youth and even adults involved. It is an escape from the real world which sometimes can be scary. All this competition and involvement helps keep kids off the streets and gives them something to look forward to. Sports can heal and sports can advance.

As Kennesaw State ushers in this new era, think about the big picture. Don’t count wins and losses the first year. This is a program under strong and passionate leadership of Brian Bohannon. He understands what this is. This is not just football and recording wins and stats, this is a process of building men and building everyone involved with the program.

It is a chance to connect with the community and raise morale. The baseball team did this two years ago, but it was too late in the season and the fan base wasn’t aware of the chance to jump onto the bandwagon. It was short-lived, making it to the College World Series, but again, it is sports bringing the community together to rally behind something.

With football on the horizon, the area will continue to grow. Tailgating on Saturday mornings and a sense of pride will run rampant in Kennesaw. No longer will students have to wear garb of other schools. No more wasted trips to Athens, no more bandwagon hopping of whoever the No. 1 team in the nation is. This area will now have a team they can call their own, through thick and thin. The football program has people excited and ready to buy into what this school can now sell.

For those still in college, cherish the moments that are soon forgotten and overlooked. That random Saturday day game vs. Point University may not seem significant at the time, but the excitement, preparation, trials and tribulations of getting ready to go to a game in Kennesaw’s inaugural season is something you can tell your kids forever. The importance of living in the moment is something we lose as a society. Heads buried in phones, noses stuck in social media in a rat race to get the most likes; sometimes it really is better to stop and smell the roses and take life day-by-day and try not to take for granted all the little things in life.

A beautiful campus, a top ranked cafeteria in the Commons, a continually growing Greek Life system, an athletics program that finally looks to be on the right track, this looks like the perfect time to buy stock in Kennesaw State and see what happens. These next five years will be crucial for the development of Kennesaw, but the sky is the limit for this once over looked University.

Saturday’s Sports Lineup One For the Ages

If you’re a sports fan, this Saturday is the type of day you live for. Clear your schedule, grab a cold drink, order a pizza and enjoy a plethora of sporting events to choose from.

The action begins at high noon with the NFL Draft kicking off. The draft has outdrawn NBA Game 7s in years past and will likely put up another big number in the Nielsen ratings this weekend. The Atlanta Falcons are holding a draft day party at the College Football Hall of Fame and will have attendees’ eyes glued to the big screen to see who Dan Quinn and company decide to bring aboard alongside No. 8 pick Vic Beasley. Rumors have swirled that the Falcons would be active during the draft and trade talks have floated around Bruce Irvin of the Seattle Seahawks as being a potential fit to rejoin coach Quinn in Atlanta.

Is football not for you? Well, maybe some hockey will whet your appetite. The New York Rangers host Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals and will look to avenge a stunning Game 1 loss to the hands of the Washington Capitals. Hockey is understandably not big in the South, but one cannot argue the intensity and excitement the playoffs bring. The Rangers finished the regular season as the top team in the league and recorded their best season in franchise history. The visiting Capitals stole Game 1 with a game-winning Joel Ward goal with just two seconds remaining. New York failed to clear the puck out of the zone and Ward slipped a shot past Henrik Lundqvist to silence the home crowd.

At 4:00 P.M., live coverage of the 141st Kentucky Derby kicks off. “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports” is a spectacle to behold at beautiful Churchill Downs. Fancy wardrobes, floppy hats, mint juleps and heavy gambling are all in abundance at the track. Celebrities and athletes both make it a point to attend the historical event. Last year, some drama occurred involving Denver Bronco receiver Wes Welker, who was shown making it rain $100 bills while at the track. Months later, it turned out Welker was under the influence of the drug Molly, and was subsequently suspended for four games after testing positive for amphetamines.

Last year’s on the track action featured California Chrome, who won the Derby and the Preakness Stakes before falling in the Belmont Stakes. California Chrome fell short of becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Around 7:10 P.M., the Kentucky Derby will be wrapping up. At that time you will be able to switch over to the Braves-Reds game, or if you want, you could even make it to the game in person as it will be played in the friendly confines of Turner Field. Eric Stults will do battle with the ageless Jason Marquis. The Braves have held their own this season and have proven to be a competitive team.

Things start to get serious in primetime with the Los Angeles Clippers welcoming the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs for Game 7 of an epic first round playoff series at 8 P.M. There has been no momentum with both teams picking up wins on each other’s home court after suffering grueling losses to one another. Unsung heroes and three-point shooting have been the story. Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and most recently Marco Belinelli have all played the games of their lives as they have propelled the Spurs’ bench. Belinelli drained seven threes and finished with 23 points while Diaw scored 17 in Game 6, but somehow, the Clippers managed to stave off elimination and force a deciding Game 7 with a 102-96 win on Thursday. Four of the six games have been decided by 10 points or less and has given fans a Western Conference Finals worthy performance.

You can find great sports action on any given weekend, but the straw that stirs the drink and makes Saturday one of the greatest days in recent sports history is the legendary boxing bout featuring undefeated Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. The fight will likely start around 10 or 11 P.M. depending on how the undercard goes. The two most recognized figures in the sport finally meet after a decade of Mayweather dodging Pac Man. The fight will be the highest grossing pay-per-view of all-time, surpassing the mark set by Canelo Alvarez and Mayweather in 2013.

The fight is going for $90-$100 and will earn Mayweather up to $180 million just for taking the fight. Tickets to the fight did not go on sale until the week before and only 1,000 tickets were available to the public and sold out within 60 seconds. Tickets have gone for $40,000 upwards to $300,000. This fight is the most decorated match in over 30 years and will continue to put boxing on the map while the UFC has been on a steady decline. The UFC suffered a big blow with Light Heavyweight Champion and most popular fighter Jon Jones being stripped of his belt and facing a prison sentence.

Whatever event you choose to watch, you can’t go wrong. The marathon of sports will span nearly 12 hours and will give die-hard sports fans everything and more they could ever ask for in a day.

Al Skinner Soothes KSU Coaching Woes

The long awaited decision on who will be Kennesaw State’s new basketball coach was finally set in stone this Sunday. Vaughn Williams and company pulled a rabbit out of their collective hats with the hiring of Al Skinner. The 62-year-old Skinner is the perfect hire on paper for a program that has been one of the worst in the nation since 2010. The Owls needed a proven winner with experience leading young adults. For once in my life I can finally say, I think Kennesaw State got this one right.

Skinner is definitely no spring chicken, but what he does bring to the program is credibility. You can tell it by his look: A toothy smile, nearly bald, Skinner has been through some battles as both a player and coach and expects nothing but excellence. He was a standout at UMass as a player in the early 70s and was subsequently drafted by the Boston Celtics of the NBA, but instead decided to play in the ABA with the New York Nets and Hall of Famer Julius Erving. No knock on Jimmy Lallathin, but he wasn’t able to tell his players he went shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the best players the game has ever seen. Skinner even has a shiny championship ring he won during his second professional season to get players’ attentions.

As a coach, Skinner started out as an assistant at Marist and Rhode Island before eventually taking over the head coaching job with the Rams in 1988. There he enjoyed a successful run in the A-10, amassing a respectable record of 138-126 in nine seasons. Skinner landed the Boston College job for the 1997-98 season and began a wildly successful run considering the juggernauts which resided in the Big East and eventually the ACC. In 13 seasons he ran up a record of 247-165 while collecting three Big East regular season championships and one tournament championship.

Kennesaw State, lowly little Kennesaw State, who has suffered through a 30-125 record over the past five seasons really just landed a one-time A-10 Coach of the Year, two-time Big East Coach of the Year and the 2001 National Coach of the Year?! Yes, you aren’t dreaming, that just happened. The Owls have won just 85 games during their 10 years as a Division One program; take a four-year stretch from 2003-04 to 2006-07 and Skinner won 98 games alone.

If players won’t buy in now that Skinner is at the helm, they will never buy in. He has sent the likes of Craig Smith, Sean Williams and Jared Dudley to the pros from Boston College. Not all-stars, but all serviceable NBA players that have played a handful of seasons in the association.

A Second Chance

Skinner was fired from Boston College on March 30, 2010. He has been working as an associate head coach at Bryant University, who much like Kennesaw State was years ago, is in its infancy as a Division One program transitioning full-time in 2012.

So what’s the knock on Skinner? I’m sure you could take a few guesses, but one major one is that he is old and won’t recruit the area like he should. It’s a decent argument, but I doubt that the former National Coach of the Year is leaving from the comforts of the Rhode Island area to come to Kennesaw just to collect a check and cash it in. Sometimes there is a thing called pride that can push old veterans to the peak of their game. Surely Skinner won’t want to end his career with a flop.

The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan highlighted a lazy Al Skinner back when he was fired from Boston College, stating he was too casual. However, in a Boston Globe article early last year, Providence Head Coach Ed Cooley said the fire is back.  “You could tell he missed it,” Cooley said. “He’s dying to coach again.” Cooley also added, “For Al Skinner not to be a head coach is a travesty to college basketball. It is crazy how he’s not a head coach somewhere.”

Time will tell if this hire was correct or not. If it is a homerun, Kennesaw can finally host a basketball program they are proud of; if not, the program will continue to remain in shambles.

What Is Going On At Kennesaw State?

Please, can someone really tell us what is going on at Kennesaw State University? One of the largest schools in the state of Georgia’s athletic program has been swept under the rug, but that rug is getting mighty bulky and some dust bunnies are starting to spill out. When Athletic Director Vaughn Williams came on campus in May of 2011 after a successful run at UConn, alumni, students and fans were all stoked about the prospects of bringing in a big name from a big school, but what has transpired since Williams’ arrival has not been all diamonds and gold.

From a student’s perspective it’s looked like Williams has had a one-track mind which has been focused solely on building the football program while turning a blind eye to other big sports that the school must improve. Most notably the basketball program has suffered dearly and now both the men’s and women’s team have controversy swirling around them. Lewis Preston was Vaughn Williams’ first basketball hire for the men’s program and it was a disaster. Preston brought an infectious bad attitude that rubbed off on the players. He did not bring an energy that made players want to play for him and instead created a rift with his negative demeanor. Preston was woefully bad for a program that needed a leader after the dismissal of long-time coach Tony Ingle. Preston limped his way through a 9-67 record in two-plus seasons before taking a leave of absence and not returning.

Once Preston was let go in 2014, Williams had the opportunity to make a splash and try and get a big name coach to come to Kennesaw. All it would take is one coach that he could convince that KSU was a school on the verge of exploding. He needed to sell the program and a vision. Instead, Kennesaw took the cheap way out and went with the in-house hire of Jimmy Lallathin. Lallathin did a respectable job winning three games as the interim coach of the team and then finished this season 10-22, better then Lewis Preston ever did. There were some bumps along the road including an early season suspension of Lallathin for NCAA violations.

So the team showed some progress with double digit wins for the first time since 2009-10, so what happens? Lallathin is fired. Why? Who knows. Now KSU is yet again at a crossroads. Do they do the right thing and try to lure a former coach who has been announcing? Seth Greenberg? Someone of that ilk? Heck, College of Charleston had Bobby Cremins so it can be done.  Another way they could go is look elsewhere to a successful program and try to pluck a young assistant. Hopefully the rumors are not true and David Rivers will not slide over a seat so the school can save money and continue to neglect developing a basketball program.

Ok so the men’s program is in disarray, how about the women’s? The Lady Owls improved from 6-24 a year ago to 17-13 this year, great right?  Not so fast. Something very wrong may be going on with this team as well. A parent of a player on the team has gone to games wearing a shirt that reads: “Abusers depend on ‘silence’ DON’T  BE ‘SILENT’” and on the back it says: “BE ‘CIVIL’ BREAK THE SILENCE OF ABUSE”. I’m not sure what it means, but it definitely can’t be good. Nitra Perry is the head coach of the women’s team and might be someone who has some answers.

Things are not good right now at Kennesaw State. The football team had its first spring game but the media was pulled from its coverage and brought into a room where Vaughn Williams gave “nothing but terse, repetitive answers” about the firing of Lallathin according to The Sentinel’s Chris Raimondi. In his three-plus years Vaughn Williams has loved to be in the forefront for the strides the football program has made, but has remained mum on more serious issues. To quote Marcellus from Hamlet, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. Sadly, the same can be said about KSU athletics. There are some serious warts that might finally see the light of day in the upcoming months.

A Student’s Plea for Kennesaw State Basketball

Another college basketball season is here, and I am afraid that it will be more of the same for the Kennesaw State Owls. I have been a student at KSU for five years and will be graduating this May. I played basketball my entire life and was hoping to be able to attend a ton of Kennesaw games throughout my time in school. However, ever since the upset victory over Georgia Tech in 2010, I along with other Owl fans have been force fed the same slop each year: a team that lacks discipline, heart, and direction.

I have seen Kennesaw go 20-105 in my time at school. I cannot bring myself to even attend games anymore because the product is so poor; Owl games are consistently empty. Trust me; this student fan base would love to get behind Kennesaw. We are stoked for the football team and are excited to go out and root on our home team, but when the basketball team is losing by 20-30 points each night to fellow A-Sun teams, enough is enough.

Talent has not been the biggest problem for the program. There have been nice pieces in place. Markeith Cummings ended his career as KSU’s all-time leading scorer and now plays in the NBDL. Aaron Anderson finished his career as the program’s all-time leading rebounder and has been successful playing overseas. On this year’s team, Delbert Love is back for his senior season along with former highly touted recruits Benard Morena, Willy Kouassi, and Damien Wilson, so can somebody explain to me how this team is not even being competitive? With losses of 47 and 34 points under their belt, it looks like Kennesaw is well on their way to another disappointing season. Many will say I am overreacting this early in the season, which I hope I am, but I have seen this all before.

The past three years Lewis Preston was in over his head as head coach. The team was sloppy, had no offense, and couldn’t defend. He had the horses to compete last season with a plethora of new faces, but could only muster three wins before taking a leave of absence on Jan. 3 and later was relieved of his duties. Jimmy Lallathin led the team to three wins the rest of the season, which unfathomably was only six less wins than what Preston could come up with in his two and a half seasons.

Preston refused to recruit in the hotbed that is Metro Atlanta and chose to reach for players from up north. There is more than enough talent in Georgia that should be getting recruited by KSU, but for some reason Kennesaw struggled to land any difference makers. Athletic Director Vaughn Williams decided to roll the dice after last season and named Jimmy Lallathin the official head coach instead of looking for options outside of Kennesaw. Lallathin recently was suspended one game after NCAA violations, but now will have full reigns of the team.

As a student, I was promised last year that things would be different and that the team would compete. It has been the same song and dance for five years now and I am tired of it. The community of Kennesaw deserves a team that will play hard and compete. There is no way the talent discrepancy in the A-Sun is that of 15-20 points nightly. Coach Lallathin needs to bring this team together and fast. I have heard over the years, “the team is young”, “the team needs time to grow”, “let the coach put his system in”, but enough has been enough and it is time to be brutally critical.

The highly recruited Damien Wilson who was granted immediate eligibility after transferring from Memphis has gone 4-20 from the field with 11 turnovers in two games. This team is in dire need of a player to lead. Someone has to say they are sick of losing and that things must change. The coaches can preach the right things, but if players don’t buy in and don’t build a winning mentality it is all for not. All I am asking for this holiday season is for Kennesaw to win some games and make me proud.