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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.

The Great Debate: Georgia vs. Alabama

Tyler Andrews (@TylerAndrews92)
Kyle Sandy (@KyleSandy355)

UGA Run vs. Bama D

A: I think we can both agree that the game will be won and lost in the trenches with the front sevens of each team trying to stop the opposing team’s running game. Nick Chubb is great and all, but has he faced a defense like Alabama’s? The answer is no. Sorry, but the Tide is a little better than Vanderbilt, who is the best team the Dawgs have played all season…seriously.

Alabama might not have the vaunted defense it once had, but it is still pretty darn good. Through four games this year the Crimson Tide has allowed just 56.8 yards per game on the ground – that’s a miniscule 2.0 yards per carry! Alabama hasn’t given up over 120 yards per game on the ground over a season since Nick Saban’s first year in 2007.

The best defense UGA faced last year was that of the lowly Florida Gators. As a team the Bulldogs rushed for 141 yards on 32 carries; that’s not going to cut it against Alabama. And do I need to remind Georgia fans of how that game turned out? Florida won 38-20 and gashed the pups’ defense for 418 yards with two slightly above average running backs. What is Derrick Henry and a healthy Kenyan Drake going to do?

G: When you think of SEC football you think of ground and pound offenses and hard-nosed defenses. This matchup displays power against power. Georgia has Nick Chubb who has managed to run for 100 yards in 12 straight games. He can beat you in physicality, speed, and even as a receiver. And don’t forget about the change of pace back in Sony Michel who may be Georgia’s most dangerous player on offense. Together they have combined for 822 rushing yards, 185 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns in four games. The physicality of Georgia’s offensive line coupled with their two-headed monster in the backfield is something that cannot be stopped. A defense can only hope it can be maintained, especially when this isn’t one of Saban’s of old. And never forget about Keith Marshall.


Bama Run vs. UGA D

A: That “devastating” Bulldog defense people in Athens are trying to sell you on doesn’t even measure up to Bama. The Tide have played two ranked teams in current No. 19 Wisconsin and No. 3 Ole Miss. In those games the Badgers rushed for 40 yards on 21 carries while the Rebels gained 92 on 32 totes.

Georgia allowed 174 yards on 39 carries to South Carolina and even Vandy eclipsed the 100-yard mark. Henry rushed for 990 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. In his last healthy season in 2013, Drake gained 694 yards on 7.5 yards per carry. So far this season the duo has combined for 637 yards and nine scores. Last year UGA allowed 166.8 yards per game on the ground and heading into Saturday they have given up twice as much as Alabama has with 107.3. Good luck wrapping up the 6-foot-3, 242-pound Henry. By the way, last time these two teams met, in the 2012 SEC Championship, the Tide rolled for 350 yards rushing.

G: The days of Georgia having an underperforming defense are no longer thanks to the leadership of second-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Last year the team showed glimpses of greatness and this year has been all about sustaining that greatness. The Dawgs have given up only three rushing touchdowns all season and runners are averaging only 3.1 yards/attempt against a team that has had the opportunity to play a ton of second and third-string players in their blowout wins. On the opposing side, Alabama’s Derrick Henry is a great back. Henry is averaging 6.3 yards/carry and has eight rushing touchdowns. But, when Alabama faces a good defense like Georgia and they are in a third-and-long situation with a below-average quarterback, their running game cannot bail them out. I look for Georgia’s defense to set the tone early against the run and force Alabama to beat them through the air, which is something I don’t believe the Tide can do. I also expect a breakout game from middle linebacker Jake Ganus.


QB Comparison

A: With Alabama loading the box on defense, Greyson Lambert will be forced to beat the Tide. The bullets haven’t started flying against Lambert yet and he has never seen a defense quite like Alabama. He started 0-for-7 against Vanderbilt and was yanked for Brice Ramsey. The South Carolina game was an aberration, an outlier, a fluke. I have a sneaky suspicious the real Greyson Lambert who was a turnover machine at Virginia will rear his ugly head in this big game. Jake Coker has proven he can be competent against good competition, going 15-of-21 against Wisconsin for 213 yards and a touchdown. He threw for three touchdowns and ran in a score against Ole Miss, but was marred by two interceptions. The rumor on campus however was that Coker was running a 102 degree fever all day.

G: Both UGA and Alabama entered the season with quarterback questions. Since Week 2, the schools have gone in completely different directions. Alabama switched starting quarterbacks before their game against Ole Miss and it turned out to haunt them. Georgia questioned whether Greyson Lambert could lead them after two below-average performances. His 24-of-25, 330-yard performance against South Carolina erased that doubt. Not only would I give the edge to the quarterback that is hot right now in Lambert, but I also give the edge to the team that has their guy and not a circus with two cowboys.



A: They say history repeats itself. If that’s true, it’s not a good sign for Georgia. We all remember the SEC Championship and of course, how can we forget the “Blackout” gimmick UGA used in 2008? That one really worked well between the bushes. The Dawgs entered the half down 31-0 and limped to a 41-30 loss. Overall, Bama has taken the series 37-24-3. Since 1960, the Crimson Tide has gone 14-7 against UGA. Oh and by the way, Alabama has 15 National Championships to Georgia’s one.

G: Since 2008, the last time these two played in the regular season, their stories have been vastly different. Alabama has won three national titles and three SEC titles. Georgia has lost twice in the SEC title game and had a 6-7 season. The last time these two played in the 2012 SEC title game, Georgia came within four yards of winning and going to the National Championship. When they were blown out at home in 2008 in the blackout game it was much of the same misery felt by all Dawgs fans. But, that’s why I am confident in their task this weekend. Georgia is due for a big win. Georgia is due for a good performance against Alabama. A good team like Georgia who always recruits well and is always hovering in the top ten is due to finally breakthrough and play up to their potential against a big-time opponent.


Coaching Comparison

A: When it comes to the sidelines, I’ll take Nick Saban, his four national championships, Lane Kiffin and Kirby Smart over Mark Richt’s goose egg in the cabinet, Brian Schottenheimer and Jeremy Pruitt. Just look at Richt’s debacle against Georgia Tech. He inexplicably pooch kicked with 18 seconds left up three. Then he left fans aghast with his decision to call a timeout with 4 seconds left and the play clock at 3 seconds when Georgia Tech was lining up for the tying kick. Instead of a 58-yarder, Harrison Butker attempted a 53-yarder and the rest is history.

G: It’s hard to say a coach that has won four titles is not as good as one that has yet to win one or even play for one as a head coach, but I am going to say that anyway. In his 15th season, Richt has already compiled 140 wins, a .745 winning percentage and nine 10-win seasons. He won a national title as offensive coordinator at Florida State. But, most importantly he is the ultimate players coach. His good deeds, devotion to faith, and loyalty to his players has to pay off some day. I see him as a Bowden or an Osborne who just takes longer to win that first title. Richt has proven that he is great and nobody can take that away from him.

Home Field Advantage?

 A: In terms of hitting the road against UGA, there isn’t much to worry about. Since ’07, Bama has nine wins on the road against ranked teams. Included in that is wins at Death Valley (LSU) three times, Sanford Stadium (UGA), Ole Miss, Arkansas, Beaver Stadium (Penn State), The Swamp (Florida) and Kyle Field (Texas A&M).

G: The wounds of 2008 are still fresh in the minds and hearts of UGA. Nobody in recent memory has done what Alabama did to the Dawgs on their home field. Not only is redemption on the minds of the UGA faithful, but their 35-year title drought is too. UGA is 74-15 at home under Richt and I would bet on that even facing a team like Alabama.


A: 31-21
G: 38-28


Alabama won 38-10.
UGA QB’s combined to go 11-of-31 for 106 yards and 3 INTs.
Jake Coker: 11-of-16, 190 yards and 1 TD.
Derrick Henry: 26 carries 148 yards 1 TD (Long of 30).
Nick Chubb: 20 carries 146 yards 1 TD (Long of 83).

Behind Trio Of Aces, North Gwinnett Seeks First State Title

Enjoying their finest season as a program, the North Gwinnett softball team enters the final weeks of the regular season ranked No. 1 in Class AAAAAA and 24-1 overall, with an unblemished 9-0 record in Region 7.

At the helm of the Lady Bulldogs is veteran head coach Randy Black, who enters his 25th year at North Gwinnett and 21st as head coach. Over the years Black has seen numerous talented teams come through the Suwanee area, but to this day the Lady Bulldogs still seek their first state championship. As the postseason looms, North Gwinnett will be pegged as a heavy favorite thanks to timely hitting, solid fundamental defense and a nearly untouchable pitching staff.

Photo By John Bohn/Gwinnett Daily Post
Photo By John Bohn/Gwinnett Daily Post

Last year North Gwinnett finished the season 18-13-1 but fielded a young roster. Going into the 2015 season, Black new the team had a chance to be special. “I knew we’d be a little bit better than we were last year because we had everybody coming back. We were very, very young last year,” explained the head coach.

The Lady Bulldogs’ calling card this season has been its pitching, headlined by a trio of legitimate aces. Seniors Rachel Smith (GCSU) and Kylee Smith have been steady, but freshman Chandler Dennis, younger sister of senior first baseman Emily Dennis, has been the “pleasant surprise” to round out the rotation and give them a young dominating talent that is hard to find.

Chandler Dennis | Photo By Bridget Wilbur
Chandler Dennis | Photo By Bridget Wilbur

“We knew she would be good, but we didn’t realize how good,” said Black when speaking about the freshman who has gone 8-0 with a 0.41 ERA.

Aside from Dennis, the veterans of the staff have gotten the job done as well. “Rachel is just a fierce competitor, she probably throws harder than any of the other pitchers and she just has a will about her to win and she is going to do whatever it takes.”

The other Smith, Kylee (not related), relies on a different approach on the mound. “Kylee, she still throws pretty hard but she has incredible movement and [her] poise on the mound is incredible. You have no idea if you are winning or losing by looking at her.” Smith is currently unsigned, but is being recruited by eight schools and has been visiting a few of her suitors.

Winning 24 out of 25 potential games is a nice start, but Black knows that the end goal is raising a trophy in late October.

“Out of the 20 kids we have on the varsity, probably 14 or 15 of them are straight-A students and they are very focused and realize even though the success as far as [it] got us some wins, the big prize is the end and these kids have bought into one pitch, one inning, one game at a time.”

A Burning Drive…

The focus and hunger the girls have been able to maintain comes from the disappointment of falling short last year in the first round of the playoffs against Archer. North Gwinnett beat the Tigers 10-5 in Game 1, but mental mistakes cost them in Game 2 and allowed Archer to steal a 4-3 win in extra innings. In the series deciding tiebreaker game, Archer scored two early runs and held onto a Game 3, 2-0 victory to end North Gwinnett’s season early.

Rachel Smith | Photo By Bridget Wilbur
Rachel Smith | Photo By Bridget Wilbur

Letting the series slip away has loomed in the players’ minds and the coaching staff has harped on not letting it happen again. “The coaching staff stays on them all the time about playing every pitch and every inning. And they knew that if they would have done that, they possibly would have went to Columbus last year with a very, very young team.”

This season, the Lady Bulldogs are very young again starting just two seniors and have received contributions from everywhere, not just on the mound. Junior Haley Griffith and sophomore Erin Wilbur have led the charge offensively. A rallying point for the team has revolved around the loss of shortstop Makenna Dowell, a junior who has started since she was a freshman and who was hitting over .500 before sustaining an injury against Mill Creek on Sept. 8.

“It’s kind of like getting a traded player later on. They realize they are going to get her back and she will definitely bolster the offense and the defense.” said Black.

Kylee Smith | Photo By Bridget Wilbur
Kylee Smith | Photo By Bridget Wilbur

Black and the rest of the Lady Bulldogs are eager to get Dowell back for their playoff run. In the past, North Gwinnett has run into eventual state champions who have ended their season like Archer in 2012 in the second round.

This edition of the Lady Bulldogs is ready to go all the way and is one of the best groups Black has ever coached in his 21 years at North Gwinnett. “Talent-wise, it’s one of the top five probably. Character, definitely one of the top ones. The success the rest of the season will determine where they fall in and how good this team really is.”

The SEC: More Of The Same

Two weeks ago the NCAA College Football AP Poll had an unprecedented 10 SEC schools in the Top 25. Fast forward two weeks later and only six remain. That was short lived.

That is how today’s society is with sports and topics beyond it. Everything is a knee jerk reaction put together to draw attention and gain ratings. I will stop you right here with this disclaimer: If you are an SEC fan, you probably won’t like this piece.

While everyone else will hold a party and blow smoke up each other trying to proclaim the SEC as the dominant conference it once was, once again, it is a level playing field in 2015. The once powerful conference has continued to regress towards the mean. The pollsters tried to throw 10 teams at the nation and hope it would stick to the wall like a spitball, but of course, it hasn’t stuck.

Auburn entered the season ranked No. 6 in the nation with a quarterback deemed the next Cam Newton – a Heisman Trophy winner, National Champion and No. 1 overall pick – in Jeremy Johnson, after he threw just 37 passes last season. Makes sense right? Anoint an unproven guy as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation because he plays at a major school. So how has the hype lived up? Try 473 yards passing on 59.7 percent completion to go along with a sparkling 5:6 touchdown to interception ratio while being sacked five times.

This is not your daddy’s SEC. The once formidable defenses have turned into mush. The steady quarterback play has deteriorated into arguably one of the worst out of the Power 5 conferences. Think about it. If anyone one of Ohio State’s trio of quarterbacks transferred to an SEC school, they would automatically become the best QB in the conference by head and shoulders above the rest. The wimpy little Big Ten that everyone picked on the past decade now has the reigning national champs and three quarterbacks better than anyone the SEC can put out. What a brave new world we are living in.

Defense? Anyone?

Speaking of the transfer quarterbacks how about Greyson Lambert? An unmitigated failure at Virginia who couldn’t beat out Matt Johns for the starting job, decides to transfer to Georgia to hand the ball off 40 times a game. This ACC reject, not good enough to play at lowly Virginia, comes in and sets an NCAA completion percentage record against South Carolina, going 24-of-25 for 330 yards and three scores.

So obviously the Ol’ Ball Coach must have been focused on stopping the run right? Make Lambert beat them through the air. UGA managed to run for 246 yards as well. So what’s this tell you? Is Lambert a Heisman Trophy hopeful now? In my opinion, it is just another damning instance of how far the SEC has fallen. Lambert couldn’t handle ACC defenses last year, but joining the weak SEC is the remedy that cures all. This is the same quarterback who produced a 20-for-40, 261-yard, two touchdowns and two interceptions stinker against a North Carolina team that gave up 39 points per game last year and ranked 119th out of 128 teams in defense. And please don’t get me started about last year’s UCLA game and how many times he threw interceptions in the red zone. Once the bullets start flying and the Dawgs play a competent defense, I think his stat line will look a little different.

Let’s look at No. 25 Missouri now. The Tigers beat Arkansas State 27-20, then UConn 9-6, but somehow they are still ranked and have only dropped one spot since the preseason polls came out. What about Arkansas and the trash talking Hogs led by Bret Bielema? He criticized Ohio State for not playing anybody. Maybe he should try worrying about his own team first? Losses to Toledo and Texas Tech have dropped the preseason No. 18 out of the rankings.

On Saturday Alabama got thumped by Ole Miss (who tried to give the game away) and dropped from No. 2 to 12. Seems harsh, but okay. Then Ole Miss jumps from No. 15 to No. 3 and has gotten 11 votes to be No. 1. Talk about a knee jerk reaction. Leaping to No. 5-7 would be warranted but hopping over Baylor and TCU? It’s a little much.

At the end of the day, ESPN and the “experts” out there have once again tried to sell you a bill of goods and a check they can’t cash. I encourage you all to not live by groupthink, but to come to conclusions on your own and realize, this is a whole new ball game.

The one SEC school that I do buy, is No. 8 LSU. If they can find consistent quarterback play, they could be the one team out of the SEC to make the Playoffs. Other than the Tigers, I think it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors surrounding the conference and that opposing teams, coaches, fans and analysts should start looking at the names on the back of the jerseys and not on the front.

(Photo by Brett Duke, | The Times-Picayune)

When Is Enough, Enough?

Every year, year in and year out there are high school seniors playing sports and chasing their dreams. For about 90% of those kids, those dreams will come to an end as they move onto college. For the lucky 10%, they will play in college somewhere, but only about three of that 10% will play division-one basketball.

Players will chase the dream, or follow their love of the sport well into their college career and play for minuscule programs. Those high school glory days of seeing 300 people or more packed into a gym are cut down to 50 people watching you play Georgia A&M Technical School for the Hearing Impaired.  It’s fine to play at that level if you love it, but if you do, why not realize the fact that, that is probably all for you? You’re not going to magically end up in the NBA and if you do get lucky, maybe you’ll join a pro-league in Finland in the third-division. But is it worth it? Moving to a foreign country and leaving all your friends and family behind to play 15 minutes a game? When is enough, enough?

Glory Daze?

It’s difficult for me watching people I have grown up with chase this elusive and unrealistic dream. You are really willing to uproot your life and move to Kazakhstan to play basketball for $50 a game?

This is where education comes into play. One must understand that you need a fall back. Playing sports will not be there for you forever. Do you really want to wake up one morning and be 35 years old with only $10K in the bank and ask yourself, “How did it get to this?” What happens when you start a family and have to support them? Playing for breadcrumbs overseas when you could have had a respectable job in your field of study even if it isn’t something you love, isn’t going to cut it.

We all grow up at some point and realize we aren’t going to be the next LeBron James, or at least I hope we do. If you go to a small division-one school and don’t cut it there, then become a rotational player and a D-3 school, maybe the writing is on the wall for you that basketball isn’t your calling card and isn’t the greatest career for you to follow.

I played in high school and was an adequate player. I could have played somewhere very, very tiny, but I knew there was life beyond playing sports. I still love sports and that is why I am working in them and writing this, but playing in front of 50 fans in an elementary school gym for a division-whatever game just wasn’t appealing for me and didn’t make any sense.

The worst thing about this vicious cycle is the enablers; the ones who will support you no matter what. It is tough, but we all need realistic criticism and guidance at some point. If you rode the bench all four years in high school, but still are trying to play a sport and try and hook up with a semi-pro team that plays in churches on the weekend in front of two youth pastors and the janitor, someone needs to tell you, “hey, I know you love basketball, but it’s time to be an adult and plan for the future.”

People high-fiving each other for joining a semi-league team just doesn’t make sense. I would much rather high-five you for landing an entry-level job in your field of study that has upside for promotion. How far are you really going to get ‘promoted’ in the ABA?

D-League players, who are theoretically the closest players to joining the NBA, make on average $12,000 to $24,000. No way is that going to be enough to support a family and how long is the longevity of these players? And again, not everyone is going to the D-League. These are guys who were strong contributors on their divison-one teams, not D-3 backup point guards that are 5-foot-5.

Be Smart

I just want to caution you and let you know that it is ok to give up the game. You can still love your sport, no one will judge you for that. But you are only hindering yourself if you are going to chase a big break that is never coming.

Go into sports writing, or marketing if you don’t like the degree you earned in college. Why not try and jump aboard a major scouting or exposure agency and try and work with them?

There is more than one way to skin a cat. There is more than one way to make a living in sports. Playing at the highest level isn’t for everyone. Be smart with your time and look towards the future. Playing sports sometimes is not a sustainable career path. If you are a 5-foot-7 point guard, you’re not going to gain those extra seven inches over night as a 24-year-old to help you get scouts’ and coaches’ attention.

It’s not easy, but sometimes stepping away from the game and diversifying yourself is the best way to go. You are not a quitter if you stop playing after high school and you certainly are not a quitter if you stop playing in college or afterwards. The world revolves around sports, but there sometimes are better options out there.

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