Vikings’ spirit and heart lies in Cleveland natives

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Cleveland State's native Clevelanders have all given unique contributions to the program this season.

Building a successful college basketball program in 2021 starts and ends with recruiting. While player development is also crucial, finding the right people to represent your program on and off the floor is a topic that is constantly on the minds of coaches. While many coaches look to take advantage of personal relationships when on the recruiting trail, Cleveland State head coach Dennis Gates has gone all around the globe to find players for his program. Despite Gates’ travel, a special group of Vikings are native Clevelanders themselves.

The Vikings have seventeen players on their roster this season. Out of those seventeen, five were born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. Demetrius “Meechie” Terry, Yahel Hill, Jayson Woodrich, Jeremy Sanchez, and Ben Sternberg all grew up just miles from Cleveland State’s campus.

When asked about his group of local players, Gates stated, “When you look at our roster, they’re the spirit and heart of our team. I think they have that mentality that will allow the tradition of the sports fan in Cleveland to appreciate how they play

“I just think those guys come from that cloth that Cleveland speaks about.,” Gates added. “We have the Cleveland Browns, we have the Cleveland Indians, we have the Cleveland Cavaliers, we’re in that same footprint less then a couple miles away from each other and that’s the mentality we have to have…I think our guys put on that jersey and they’re prepared to protect it…Cleveland State University is dear to their hearts and they play that way.”

While each of the Cleveland natives has a different role on the team, newcomers Hill and Woodrich have contributed on both ends of the floor this year in exciting fashion. Terry has been called on at times this year for defensive work against the opposing team’s leading scorer. Terry, Hill, and Woodrich are part of the explosive CSU bench, that can oftentimes be seen chanting and creating energy for the players on the floor during the game. The bench’s culture is set by Sanchez and Sternberg, the captains of that unit.

This newfound interest in bringing in local players was something that was missing during the Dennis Felton era at CSU. Felton opted to go for players from the southern part of the United States, as that was the area he knew the best. You have to go back to the 2015 squad under Gary
Waters that featured local products such as Trey Lewis, Anton Grady, Demonte Flannigan, and Derrick Sloan as the last time that Cleveland State had this many Cleveland natives on their roster. That squad did not have the chemistry that this particular Cleveland State team has, as Gates has cultivated a program that not only wins on the floor, but off of it as well.

While recruiting players that are natives of the city the program is in is not an absolute necessity, it helps integrate a coach into an area that he might have not been familiar with before accepting the job. While Gates and recruiting coordinator Dru Joyce III have traveled around the world in hopes of finding talent, some of their most integral pieces come from their own backyard.

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