Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Uncharted Waters

For the first time in a long time, Cleveland State's basketball program has made a good decision. And hopefully, it will lead to more good decisions.
The Vikings are hiring former Kent State coach Gary Waters to lead their program. Even though he sputtered for the past five years at Rutgers, compiling a 79-75 record before resigning in March, he still has a track record that should give fans of the skin-and-bones Cleveland State basketball program reason for hope.
Waters, at least in the past, found a way to make a midmajor progam that could compete with the big boys.
Waters' Golden Flashes were a perennial Mid-American Conference power thanks to a large talent pipeline he built from the Detroit area. Waters' Detroit-area recruiting brought him Trevor Huffman and Antonio Gates, two cornerstones of the 2002 Kent State team that came within a win of the Final Four.
Waters recruit Nate Gerwig was a freshman on that team. He helped the Flashes to yet another NCAA berth this year.
It is folly to think Waters can show up at Cleveland State and wave a magic wand. The situation is rather different from Kent. While Kent State can offer a campus atmosphere and the college-life experience, Cleveland State is a downtown commuter school that counts a converted hotel as its lone dormitory.
It will be more difficult for Waters to sell talented out-of-town players on Cleveland State than it was to sell them on Kent State. Detroit recruits can stay at home, go to Detroit Mercy or Wayne State, and get the same experience Cleveland State can offer. Waters is going to need to be a first-rate salesman for his program and give those players a reason to come to Cleveland.
Then there's the Vikings' home, which is a double-edged sword. Cleveland State has the 13,000-seat Wolstein Center for a home court, a far better facility than Kent's MAC Center, which looks like a beefed-up high school gym.
But few things are more deflating to team morale than playing in front of 12,000 empty seats per night. Waters' presence might boost ticket sales a bit, but the Wolstein Center still figures to be a cavernous void until the Vikings start winning.
As it stands, Waters comes in with little ammo at his disposal this summer. He has one scholarship to award, which means the team that former coach Mike Garland left behind is virtually the same team Waters will start with.
But anything that has to do with Cleveland State basketball should be viewed as a long-term plan. Viking basketball is as bad as it has been in quite some time, riding a string of three straight losing seasons and no Horizon League tournament wins in five years. So Viking fans need to take baby steps with their expectations.
First, be thankful for what Waters isn't: he's not a former assistant from a big-name program who will be caught off-guard by just how much of an uphill recruiting battle he's fighting, like Garland was.
He's not a one-hit wonder trying to stave off retirement for a few more years, like Rollie Massimino.
He's not a caretaker head coach who was thrust into the job, like Mike Boyd.
And let's hope Waters is constructed of far better moral fabric than Kevin Mackey.
Waters isn't a magician. But he is the best coach the Vikings have had in quite some time, certainly as a recruiter.
His arrival won't part the clouds tomorrow, but if he is as diligent as he was at Kent State, the skies over the Cleveland State basketball program should steadily lighten over the next few years.

1 comment:

Zach said...

My take on this is pretty much the same as yours. What's nice is this hiring is going to be good for basketball fans in Cleveland. There are many who still remember the Vikings' run to the Sweet 16 in 1986 and would love to feel that way again.
At present, Waters is the most likely man to make the return to glory possible.
Plus, Waters is more that a name, the way Rollie Massimino seemed to be. Waters can build mid-majors. His work several years ago has made Kent St. a conference power.
Maybe Waters won't solve CSU's 20-year absence from the NCAA tournament, but it's a start.