Pat Kennedy knows his seventh season as Towson’s basketball coach will likely be his most crucial.
The Tigers limped to a 10-21 record last season, but showed signs of life down the stretch. Kennedy, who hasn’t had a winning season at Towson, hopes those positive late-season moments carry over into the 2010-11 season. He will count on at least four newcomers to help the Tigers reach their goals.
Towson has signed two recruits for the 2010 class: Jamel Flash, a 6-foot-11 center from West Hempstead, N.Y., and Fredrick Conner, a 6-foot-1 point guard from Blanche Ely High in Pompano Beach, Fla. The Tigers will also add Cephas Oglesby, a 6-foot-1 guard out of Cape Fear (N.C.) Community College, and Braxton Dupree, a 6-foot-8 forward and former Calvert Hall star who transferred from Maryland after the 2008-09 season. Oglesby and Dupree will each have two years of eligibility remaining.
Kennedy spoke with Recruiting Report last week about Towson’s 2010 recruiting class.
Overall, what are your initial thoughts on the 2010 class?
Well, a few things. We really wanted to get size. We thought we’ve developed the program and obviously winning is paramount for us next year. And we really feel like our top, front-line guys are established: Troy [Franklin] at point guard, RaShawn Polk at the 2 guard, Erique Gumbs and Braxton Dupree. Finally we have a good group of seven guys that are going to get the bulk of the minutes. When you have a class like that, you’re not going to be able to sign many kids that are going to play right away. So we went for size and we went for position. You look at not just recruiting, but who are your new players in evaluating our team – newcomers and recruits. Obviously, Braxton Dupree will be a junior. He has two years to play, is 6-9, 275 and just looks fabulous. We’re looking for him to be a real force in our conference. We’re really excited about him.
The second guy is a redshirt [freshman], Erique Gumbs, a 6-9 youngster from Delaware. He was a Gatorade Player of the Year in Delaware. He played in our first six or seven games and then blew out his knee. He’s totally recovered and will be in our freshman class. He’s looking real good. Another guy in our freshman class will be Jamel Flash, who’s 6-11. He’s a youngster out of Long Island who had a very, very good senior year. He can easily be a 7-footer. I don’t like the word ‘project’, because you don’t give full scholarships to projects. I don’t think my style fits with a lot of big, slow guys. Braxton is one of those big guys, but he moves pretty well. But Jamel can really run. He’s very athletic and has good feet. His high school team was just average, but we signed him early. After we signed him, Fordham, St. John’s, Iona, all the New York-area schools were interested, but we signed him early. So that’s a 6-9 and a 6-11 kid in the class.
We have a third guy who I really can’t say much about. He’s being processed as we speak, but he is 6-8 ... and is another kid who can really run the floor and block shots. So as you can see, it might be the biggest class in the history of the school, size-wise. And then Erique Gumbs will play right away, too.
We’ve also got a kid who’s from Pompano Beach, Fla., ‘Dreon’ Cummings [editor’s note: he’s also known as Fredrick Conner], who’s just a real winner. The kid’s team was 29-1, lost in the state championship game. The year before they went 27-2. He looks like a football player at 6-feet tall. Allen Edwards, one of my assistants, is from Florida and went to Kentucky. So those are the guys we’ve brought in, a group of four along with Braxton. Four or five of them bring good size for us.
Dreon’s coach told the Miami Herald that he was a kid who gave 110 percent and wore many different hats for a squad that had quite a few big-time guys. Is that how you view him, and what do you expect from him?
I think the coach meant that he’ll go through brick walls for you. He’s a tough, hard-nosed kid. [He’s] a yes sir, no sir kid. A lot of good southern players are like that. He’s just a good, hard-nosed kid that puts his nose to the grindstone and plays really hard. He really defends the ball, doesn’t turn it over, makes plays and knows how to win. He’s really been the leader of that group the past two years on some really good teams.
Was it difficult assembling the class during a particularly trying season?
Well, interestingly enough, we got a pretty good response from kids, obviously with our early signings. Obviously to get a kid like Jamel Flash was a good step for us. But I think these guys, they came because they really, really like the university and the campus. A lot more plays into it than how much you win or lose. So we felt it was a group we needed to get.
What’s the status of Philadelphia shooting guard Will Adams, who signed with Towson in 2008 but battled Hodgkin's lymphoma and couldn’t enroll?
When we signed Will, once September of the following year hit, they’re no longer enrolled in that institution. The [national letter of intent] is no longer valid. So once Will was going into this year, he was still recovering from cancer and doing some academic work, he kind of had to be re-recruited again. He’s been re-recruited rather heavily. He’s in Philadelphia and his cancer is in full remission. He looks fabulous. At 6’4, 200 pounds, he’s a wing kid and [was] a good recruit for us.
[Editor’s note: Adams can’t sign another letter of intent. Towson has left a scholarship open for Adams, who told the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this year that he still planned on playing for the Tigers.
How did Oglesby fare as a sophomore, and is he ready for serious action right from the start?
Cephas is going to take the next spot [behind] RaShawn Polk, who played extremely well the last eight or nine games. Cephas is really going to be very important. He was a third- or fourth-team junior college All-American and had a terrific sophomore year. He’s 6-3 and very athletic. I’m talking about very athletic. He’s just extremely quick and really explodes to the rim. He can play the 2 or 3. If you look at our stats last year, our leading scorers scored 10 or 11 points a game. RaShawn, if you look at our last eight games, averaged about 17 and Troy averaged 14. My team has always been three-guard oriented with a lot of quickness and speed and pressure defense. Troy and Brian [Morris] at the point guard are going to be able to run with Cephas and Isaiah Philmore, a bigger wing guy at 6’7. So we’re going to have much more scoring power, and Cephas is going to be extremely important. Cephas has been here taking classes, but getting him along with Jamel Flash ... we felt really good about signing them.
What are you expecting out of Flash? Is he a still-developing big man?
He’s got tremendous potential. He’s a 6-11 kid who runs like a deer, loves the game and is a real good student. He’s going to be a freshman playing alongside the likes of Braxton Dupree and Erique Gumbs and Isaiah Philmore day in and day out, and Rob Nwankwo. He’s got real potential.
We were very surprised we were able to get in there early. He played for an extremely well-known AAU coach by the name of Gary Charles. He’s coached a ton of NBA players. That’s really the key Queens, Nassau County AAU program.
What did you see from Braxton this past year?
Braxton has just shown a great attitude. When guys make that kind of move, it’s a little tough initially. But he’s had a tremendous attitude. Two things: I didn’t realize how quick his feet were for a big guy, and I didn’t realize how crafty he is with the ball. Rob Nwankwo was a first-team All-Defensive player in the conference, and he just could not stop Braxton during practice. Braxton just really overwhelmed him in practice. That’s when I realized [his potential]. As a coaching staff, other than Gary Neal, we haven’t had a dominant player in our conference. The conference has grown so much that you have a kid like [Eric Maynor] from VCU in the NBA. So that’s going to be a big key. If we’re going to break out this season and really become a true player in the top part of the league, Braxton is going to be a huge key.
Were there any disappointments in recruiting this class?
Obviously, losing the youngster from Calvert Hall [small forward Damion Lee] who’s going to prep school who signed early [is disappointing]. He’s a terrific kid and we wish him all the very best. But having him not enroll and go to prep school was in his best interest and we support him 100 percent. He’s a terrific kid.
How will these new additions fill in for guys you have lost?
What you try to do -- and I’ve built some programs quicker than this -- is when you’re building a program, you try to get solid at every position and then get better at every position -- unless you get a Gary Neal, you’re not getting much better than him. But we’ll have a junior point guard in Troy, who played terrific. Troy was really a high-level point guard in the last seven or eight games. He played really well. We beat William & Mary, a team that beat Maryland and Wake Forest, on senior night there. Troy had 27 points and dominated the game. We had two good veterans in Josh Thornton and Jarrel Smith, who were 10- and 11-point guys. I think we have guys coming in that can put up pretty good numbers. We had to put Isaiah Philmore in the post because we lost Erique Gumbs early in the season. Now we can go really big, and Isaiah played really well down the stretch, averaged about 10 points a game. Rob Nwankwo had a good year, and then you throw in Braxton and Erique, we think we’re going to be better at every position. So it’s about recruiting new players, but we’ve also developed kids and added players like Erique and Braxton and Cephas. You talk about Cephas, obviously Braxton Dupree, and Erique Gumbs, for anyone in the conference that would be a pretty good recruiting year.
Is this a make-or-break year for Towson?
Since we’ve been here, and I’m not saying I underestimated the CAA, but it’s really become a strong conference – if you look at the postseason – in a short amount of time. I could probably write a book on what we’ve been through here. Going from where they were in Division II, to lower Division I, now moving it up to mid-major Division I. But it really is a high-mid-major league that’s producing NBA players and sending teams to the Final Four and beating Big East teams in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It’s three rebuilding rounds. You get to the Division I level and get us over the low level. And then you need to get the legitimate mid-to-high major players. What’s happening in college basketball is that it’s become four divisions. There’s still a low-major, still a mid-major, but now there’s a high-mid-major. That’s why you see Butler and George Mason get to the Final Four and see Old Dominion beat Notre Dame. If you put the shirts on the other side, you really don’t know who’s who. Towson is really now playing at a high-mid-major level, which was really exciting when I got here. But all of a sudden we’re a mid-major playing at the high-mid-major level, and our record reflects that. This third building step is where we have to be now. This group has to be able to win in the upper half of the conference. I think we finished seventh or eighth one year with Gary Neal, but getting up close to 18, 19 wins, that will really complete the building process. We’ve had to build this thing from scratch. Our hope is to get there, and if we do well and have a great [CAA] tournament, the following year we would be preseason ranked in the top two or three in the conference.
Baltimore Sun photo of Pat Kennedy by Karl Merton Ferron / Feb. 21, 2009