The Vikings return a solid core for new coach Daniyal Robinson to work with
Following an offseason that included the departure of head coach Dennis Gates and his staff, in addition to a multitude of outgoing transfers including D’Moi Hodge and Tre Gomillion who followed Gates to Missouri, there are more questions than answers heading into the new year for the Cleveland State Vikings. First time head man Daniyal Robinson, like Gates before him, brings a wealth of assistant coaching experience to Cleveland State, most recently at Iowa State where he helped lead the Cyclones to two Big 12 Conference titles in his second stint with the school.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the program with a fresh face as its leader, it should not be forgotten that the Vikings were in a similar position with a first time head coach just a few years ago when Gates was introduced. That sort of pressure should not be put on Robinson from day one, but fans should take solace in the fact that Robinson was indeed under consideration from Scott Garrett and company for the position the summer in which Gates was hired, so there is at least some baseline familiarity between the two parties.
As has become customary in college basketball, the transfer portal becomes a major factor for schools who are replacing a head coach, and Cleveland State was no exception. Including the aforementioned departures of D’Moi Hodge and Tre Gomillion, Craig Beaudion also used his extra year of eligibility and transferred to UMBC. Additionally, the bench brigade will also look drastically different this upcoming season with the departure of Ben Sternberg, one of the team’s most vocal leaders the last two seasons.
Here is a projected lineup for the Vikings.
Point Guard: Deshon Parker
Parker will be utilizing his final year of eligibility with Cleveland State after spending the majority of last season as the team’s starting point guard, following the injury to Craig Beaudion. Parker will certainly be leaned on as the well traveled veteran brings plenty of big game experience to a group that is lacking in that department as a unit. Look for Parker to assume more of a leadership role this season as his voice will be extremely important on and off the floor for the Vikings.
Shooting Guard: Yahel Hill
Despite Hill’s lack of natural size for the position, he has oftentimes thrived playing in the role of an off ball scorer when accompanied with another lead guard in the past. Expect to see Hill continue to be utilized in this role barring injury or ascension of a younger player. Hill scored in double figures in twelve contests last year and is Cleveland State’s most naturally gifted returning scorer. Hill will undoubtedly take on more responsibility this year as a leader on and off the floor with this also being his final year of collegiate eligibility.
Small Forward: Jayson Woodrich
A third returning contributor from the Gates era should at the very least have a punchers chance at the starting small forward job given his ability to space the floor as a proficient three point shooter. Woodrich has also been working feverishly on his ability to handle the basketball in both space and tight windows, something that should greatly benefit his offensive upside as a scorer. It remains to be seen who will join CSU’s veteran backcourt on the perimeter, but Woodrich will be a key cog in the rotation this year regardless.
Power Forward: Tristan Enaruna
Enaruna joins the Vikings after one season at Iowa State where he played for Robinson in mostly a starting role, averaging just under fifteen minutes per contest. Prior to his time with the Cyclone, Enaruna spent two seasons at national powerhouse Kansas where he appeared in nearly every game off the bench for the Jayhawks. This specific addition for the Vikings will give them a great deal of big game experience, as Enaruna played in the ultra competitive Big 12 conference for three seasons. Additionally, his familiarity with Robinson will help set the culture for the rest of the team as he has experience playing for a Robinson-coached squad.
Center: Deante Johnson
Johnson’s name can be written with sharpie in the starting lineup barring injury, as the longest tenured Cleveland State Viking will be an integral part of their success this coming season as the centerpiece of the team’s defensive scheme. An elite rim protector in the Horizon League, retaining Johnson for his final season of eligibility was a huge offseason victory for Coach Robinson and his staff. Cleveland State fans know “Spider” and his freakish defensive abilities all too well, and Coach Robinson understanding his importance to what they want to accomplish on both ends of the floor should give Viking fans some hope, despite the vast number of changes around him.
Guard/Forward: Tae Williams
Williams joins CSU after two collegiate seasons, most recently at John A. Logan College where he helped lead his group to the national junior college Sweet 16. Williams possesses some guard like skills and for a player of his 6-7 stature that could pose some interesting issues for opposing defenses depending on how Robinson utilizes him offensively. His explosiveness off the bounce is extremely impressive, and could be a highlight reel waiting to happen for Cleveland State this season. Williams could very well play his way into a starting role if the offseason plays out favorably for him.
Guard: Jason “Deuce” Drake
While Drake is only an incoming freshman, he arrives at Cleveland State a 3-star recruit, something that is not that common for CSU to attain. Drake turned down offers from schools such as Toledo, Kent State, and fellow Horizon League rival Purdue Fort Wayne to play for Coach Robinson and his staff at Cleveland State. While it remains to be seen how his game will translate to the collegiate level, he is a prolific offensive player who has the ability to shoot from the perimeter, drive the basketball, and pass proficiently. There is a very good chance Drake plays a large roll this season despite his lack of college experience.
Guard: JaMir Price
Price’s outside shooting should make him an impact player for the Vikings this year as he shot over 43% from behind the arc in his lone season at Mineral Area College of the NJCAA. Floor spacing is ever so valuable which makes players like Price and Jayson Woodrich especially vital to teams like Cleveland State who are not returning a majority of their scoring from a season ago. CSU will need contributions from players like Price to ensure some successes when games begin due to the uncertainty surrounding where offensive production will come from.
Guard: Drew Lowder
One final key newcomer who could see significant time with the Vikings is the well-traveled Drew Lowder, who comes to Cleveland State as a junior. Most recently, Lowder returned home to Michigan to play for Lansing Community College, where he averaged a scintillating 28.5 points, 6.4 assists, and 4.6 rebounds in conference play for the season. Lowder’s additional division one experience includes stops at Holy Cross and Eastern Michigan. Viking fans should be excited about Lowder, as he will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his abilities as the season develops and rotations are figured out.
Overall, it would be unfair to ask Robinson to replicate the successes of Gates in his first season as a head coach. There will most likely be a learning curve for Robinson as there is with any first time head coach. However, some pieces are indeed in place for CSU to make things interesting once conference season rolls around. The incoming talent has immense potential, it is a matter of them meshing with the returning players, who need to set the tone on how Cleveland State teams like to play. The Vikings are in a position where they do not need to reset their culture despite changing coaches. Certain aspects of Gates’ tenure should indeed remain intact. Things like practice and study habits that were crafted under Gates should still be a point of emphasis for Robinson. Hopefully, fans will look at this upcoming, season with optimism and excitement as while new things can be scary, they can also be the beginning of something special.
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