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MAC Offseason News Update

October 22, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Mid-American Offseason News Update

by Jeremy Speer

As a rising Mid-Major conference, the MAC experienced a shakeup of players
and coaches leaving to compete in higher levels.

Central Michigan center Chris Kaman gained the Chippewas national attention
with his drafting as the No. 6 pick of the Los Angeles Clippers. Ohio’s
Brandon Hunter was taken by the Boston Celtics and Ball State’s Theron Smith
by the Memphis Grizzlies. Even Kent State All-MAC performer Antonio Gates is
in the professional ranks, with the NFL’s San Diego Chargers. Also,
enigmatic Marshall guard Ronald Blackshear tested the NBA waters a year
early to no avail. And, the NFL likely isn’t calling any time soon.

Western Michigan coach Robert McCullum left the Broncos to take a post with
Conference USA’s South Florida, giving Steve Hawkins the post in Kalamazoo.
Marshall’s Greg White resigned from his job to accept a job at Charleston,
bringing former Georgia coach Ron Jirsa to Huntington.

The Thundering Herd also have been mentioned in talks of moving to the Big
East or Conference USA, in conjunction with the ACC additions of Miami,
Virginia Tech and Boston College.

The conference also invited a full membership to Central Florida, who is
currently a football-only member. The Golden Knights are another team
mentioned in a possible conference jump.

Team by Team Breakdowns

East Division


Zips fans are crossing their fingers to the condition of oft-injured guard
Andy Hipsher, who underwent back surgery in September and has been relegated
to shooting drills during his rehabilitation. Hipsher has battled back
problems his entire Akron career. If healthy, the son of Coach Dan Hipsher
is one of the top guards in the league.

Akron also filled out its basketball staff in the off-season with the hiring
of former Clemson Director of Basketball Operations Shaka Smart. Smart, who
graduated from Kenyon College, fills the position left by Brian Donoher, who
accepted a job at Wright State.

A legendary member of the UA family was lost, with the passing of former
coach Dr. Wyatt Webb. Webb led the Zips to a 126-60 record and to four
appearances in the NCAA College Division Tournament.


It could be a turbulent season at Buffalo the MAC’s perennial
basement-dweller needs to make some improvement. The Bulls did have a first,
as junior guard Turner Battle was the first-ever UB player to be named to
the Preseason All-MAC East team. Coach Reggie Witherspoon hopes the addition
of two late signees, Parnell Smith and Yassin Idbihi, will help. Smith was
hailed as a McDonald’s All-American candidate at Indianapolis Pike High
School last season, before a groin injury slowed him down. Idbihi, a Morocco
native, played high school ball in Germany last year.

Kent State

It was a turbulent offseason for the Golden Flashes, as starters Eric Haut,
John Edwards and Nate Gerwig all underwent surgeries. If healthy, Kent State
should be back in the upper tier.

It was a good year for former KSU athletes signing professional contracts,
as 2003 Associated Press Honorable Mention All-American Gates shockingly
signed on with the Chargers. Revered guard Trevor Huffman also got a shot at
the pros, as a strong performance in the NBA Summer League landed him a spot
in the Phoenix Suns training camp.

Coach Jim Christian, who was the Basketball Times Rookie Coach of the Year,
was given a seven-year contract extension through the 2009-2010 season.


After years of big talent (Tamar Slay, J.R. VanHoose, Ronald Blackshear)
with little results, Jirsa hopes to bring Marshall to a higher level. Jirsa
was head coach at Georgia from 1997-1999 and brought in two top-15
recruiting classes. He most recently was an assistant at Clemson, under
Larry Shyatt.

Jirsa rounded out his coaching staff, hiring Bob McKinnon as his top
assistant. McKinnon, the son of long-time NBA coach Bob McKinnon, Sr., was
recently an assistant under Matt Doherty’s staff at North Carolina.
Josh Postorino, a former Clemson assistant and Aki Collins, formerly of
Howard also were named Marshall assistants.


It was a quiet offseason in Oxford, but Miami fans are bracing for one of
the most anticipated seasons since the Wally Szczerbiak era. Coach Charlie
Coles has a arsenal of weapons at his disposal, including two-time Preseason
All-MAC pick Juby Johnson.


The Bobcats were devastated by graduation, as Hunter, guard Steve Esterkamp
and forward Sonny Johnson all are gone. Hunter had a good summer, signing a
two-year, one-million dollar deal with the Celtics, who drafted him with the
No.56 pick.

Hunter made the dollars count, averaging 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds in the
Reebok Summer League, earning him First Team All-League honors.

On a sad note, Rachael Townsend, 29, wife of assistant Brian Townsend passed
away of cardiac death this summer from a mitral valve prolapse.

West Division

Bowling Green

Coach Dan Dakich heard pleasant news when junior Josh Almanson and sophomore
Germain Fitch were given an additional year of eligibility under NCAA by-law
14 2.4. Both players suffered season-ending knee injuries last year, and are
expected to lead a Falcon team loaded with depth.

Dakich also announced the addition of Shaun Vandiver to his staff. A former
Colorado star and first-round draft pick of the Golden State Warriors
(1991), Vandiver served one season each at Wyoming and Colorado following a
basketball career in the NBA and Europe.

Ball State

Guard Michael Bennett (right knee) and center Tom Howland (left knee)
underwent arthroscopic surgery, but are expected back for the start of the

Central Michigan

The Chippewas gained instant notoriety with the buzz surrounding Kaman’s

As coach Jay Smith saw Mike Manciel, J.R. Wallace and Whitney Robinson walk
down the graduation aisle, he saw his four leading scorers exit his program.
Also exiting on less-friendly terms was assistant Cornell Mann, who accepted
a job with arch-rival Western Michigan.

Mann’s position was filled by former Muskegon Heights High School coach
Lamar Chapman. One of Chapman’s players, wingman Eddie Spencer was found to
be academically ineligible, and will sit out this season at CMU.

Herb Goliday, who played sparingly the past two seasons, transferred to
Wayne State and Nova Scotia native Corey Hallett also left the program.

Eastern Michigan

Last season, the hype of former Ohio State and Michigan player JaQuan Hart
engulfed Ypsilanti. This season, things are a little quieter, as except for
the losses of big men Steve Pettyjohn and Ryan Prillman, the Eagles roster
and coaching staff remain in tact.

Northern Illinois

The biggest offseason news is the return of perhaps the MAC best two
players, forward Marcus Smallwood and guard P.J. Smith.

Huskie coach Rob Judson also added a late piece to the puzzle when he
snagged South Dakota Mr. Basketball Paige Paulsen. Paulsen, who had
originally signed with Lamar, left when Lamar’s coaching staff was gutted.


Former Rocket forward Greg Stempin landed a spot in the Milwaukee Bucks
training camp.

There was some coaching mix up in Toledo, as James Stafford was added to
Stan Joplin’s staff. Stafford has coached at Wisconsin and Duquense and has
been a successful AAU coach in Wisconsin and Michigan. He filled the
position vacated by Mike Jackson, who left to take a post at Dayton.

Bob Simon, who has been on the staff since 2000, was promoted to associated
head coach.

The Rockets snagged a pair of late key recruits when they added Florentino
Valencia (Chicago, Ill.) and Keonta Howell (Jackson, Mich.).

Western Michigan

Hawkins vows to keep Western’s program on the rise. He served the past nine
seasons as the successful coach at Quincy (Ill.) College.

The South Alabama graduated filled out his staff by retaining assistant
Clayton Bates and hiring Harold Baber and Cornell Mann.

Mann, spent the past three seasons at Central Michigan. He is a former
standout at Akron. Baber previously coached at Oakland University, where he was a star player.


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