January 17, 2007

Freshmen make key contributions

Last year Kent State finished 25-8, its eight straight 20-win season. The Golden Flashes also captured their fifth Mid-American Conference East Division title in six years with a squad that featured four seniors, including MAC Player of the Year DeAndre Haynes.

Replacing that senior leadership in 2006-07 was helped by the return of six letter winners. Armon Gates, a 6-foot-1 guard, and Mike Scott, a 6-foot-7 forward, both started last season and Omni Smith, Isaac Knight, Jordan Mincy and Julian Sullinger all played key roles in Kent State's run to the postseason.

But, for the Golden Flashes to be successful this season, several newcomers would quickly have to adjust to their new surroundings. That has been the case with at least two freshmen, Chris Singletary and Rodriquez Sherman.

Sherman, a 6-foot-2 guard from Indianapolis, Ind., has played in all 16 games, starting 12. He posted a career-high 15 points against South Dakota State and currently averages 5.1 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.

"He's getting better and better every game," Kent State head coach Jim Christian said. "The thing about him is that he's such a coachable kid. He plays hard, he wants to do well and we're trying to get him to be more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor. Sometimes he plays not to make mistakes instead of just playing."

Sherman has earned playing time thanks to his ability to play defense. He has nine steals already this season but he's proven to be capable of shutting down the opposition's top shooters.

"Defensively, he's really come a long way and I think that's really been significant for us because we needed a guy on the perimeter to step up and guard consistently," Christian said. "It's a lot for a freshman but he's really done a good job with it."

The road for Singletary hasn't been without a few bumps. The 6-foot-3 guard from Chicago, Ill., was suspended earlier this season for violating team rules and just two weeks ago he missed three games while serving a second suspension.

Since his return, Singletary has averaged 5.3 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. Against Ohio he hit on 2 of 3 shots from the field and pulled down a pair of offensive rebounds. More importantly, he played with a lot of aggressiveness and effort, something Christian attributed to Singletary's level of comfort on the floor.

"He really played well," Christian said. "He's starting to get more and more comfortable. He's learning more and more and he's starting to get comfortable on the floor."

Singletary has played in 12 games, with three starts to his credit.

The play of Sherman and Singletary hasn't gone unnoticed by the veteran players. Senior guard Omni Smith is impressed by the efforts of the rookies, on and off the court.

"Chris is getting more and more into it," Smith said. "Coming from high school being such a big prospect, you kind of sometimes feel that going into a certain place you have to do certain things, and being from Chicago a lot of people are in your ear telling you this and telling you that. It gets you sidetracked, but I've been talking to him and he's more positive. He's one of the most positive guys on the team now.

"Rod, he's one of the most hardworking people on the team. He lifts weights hard and he always asks questions. He talks to Armon (Gates) a lot; that's good to do as a freshman. I didn't even do that as a junior."

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