The champs are here.
As the 2013-14 college basketball season begins, the Mid-American Conference East Division men's basketball champions once again call James A. Rhodes Arena home.
The University of Akron men's basketball team is coming off back-to-back conference titles and will have a bevy of key components and strong new additions.
The Zips, winners of three of the last five MAC tournament championships, are beginning a year with high expectations from fans, players and coaches.
Tenth-year head coach Keith Dambrot isn't buying the idea that the loss of all-time MAC blocked shots leader Zeke Marshall and the departure of Alex Abreu from the program present an insurmountable obstacle.
"We're looking forward to the season. We've built this program on no excuses and we have very high expectations," Dambrot said. "A lot of people say, 'Well, you lost this, you lost that, you play a good schedule and you've got an inexperienced this or that,' but none of that really matters to me."
Abreu's dismissal – due to felony drug trafficking charges – will be counterbalanced by the return of senior guard Quincy Diggs, who missed last season with his own off-court issues.
Diggs is back for his senior season and grateful to have a second chance. During his time away from the team, Diggs attended community college classes and worked a full time job. He also worked on sharpening his shooting skills.
"It was a long time, so a year felt like 10 years, but I'm blessed to be back," Diggs said. "I had a lot of thinking to do and I think I'm ready to perform this year."
Diggs will have help in the backcourt from sophomore Carmelo Betancourt, who took over in the starting lineup late last season following Abreu's arrest.
The Zips' deep bench could also give Brevard Community College transfer Nyles Evans (North Canton Hoover) a chance to contribute in the backcourt.
Replacing Marshall will be a taller task, one senior forward Demetrius "Tree" Treadwell is spearheading.
Treadwell – last season's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer – possesses a strong frame and great leaping ability. At 6-foot-7, he can play in the post against bigger opponents.
Treadwell is also the face of the 2013 program, appearing on promotional materials, billboards and banners around town.
"It's a really good feeling, really an honor," Treadwell said of the billboards. "I was kind of amazed when I saw it. I really don't feel like there's (any) pressure other than handling myself day in and being the best I can be."
The Zips will also count on sophomore center Pat Forsythe (3.4 points, 2.7 rebounds per game in 11 minutes per game last season) and 6-foot-10, 285-pound freshman Isaish Johnson to provide a presence in the post. Forsythe showed good moves around the basket and a knack for rebounding last season and Johnson has impressed in the preseason.
Page 2 of 2 - The Zips will tackle a brutal schedule, both in terms of travel and opponents. Akron will travel to Moraga, Calif. to play St. Mary's as part of the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon on Nov. 12 and will also travel to Hawaii in December for the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. The tournament includes Oregon State and Boise State, among others.
The St. Mary's game will tip at 3 a.m. EST, prompting Dambrot to joke that he might fall asleep during the game.
The Zips, however, won't have many chances to rest this season if they are to reach their eighth-straight MAC tournament title game.
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