Despite a disappointing end to their postseason campaign in the first round of the CBI, the Cleveland State Vikings Men’s Basketball team had an immense amount of success in year one of the Daniyal Robinson era. So much so, that Robinson set a CSU coaching record for most wins recorded in year one as a Viking with 21. While it has been previously noted that Robinson arrived to a program already in a healthy state, his impact and leadership has allowed for Cleveland State to continue to blossom both on and off the floor.
When reflecting on the year that was for Cleveland State, what is perhaps most impressive regarding their story is how the group developed together over the course of the season to become not only a formidable Horizon League team, but one that could compete for a conference championship. Following the opening night loss to Division II Notre Dame College, Senior guard Deshon Parker addressed the media in a calm and collected fashion, assuring everyone in the room that they would be okay from this learning experience. It provided a Vikings team that was getting used to playing with new pieces a humbling moment early in the season, something that drove the Vikings to heights not many outside the program thought they could reach.
From an X’s and O’s standpoint, Coach Robinson and his staff did a tremendous job of formulating opponent specific game plans to best attack the opposition’s weaknesses. What made CSU difficult to handle offensively is seemingly on a nightly basis it would be a different player making winning plays on the offensive end which caused a major conundrum for opponents. From First Team All Horizon League performer Tristan Enaruna, to Tae Williams, to Drew Lowder, and a herd of others, the Vikings developed into a true pick your poison situation for many teams in the Horizon League. While rotations began to get shortened near the end of the regular season into the postseason, the Vikings roster was filled with more than capable Division I players on the offensive end.
Defensively, Cleveland State picked right up where they left off under Dennis Gates as a swarming defense was once again the backbone of their success. Fifth year senior Deante Johnson once again roamed and protected the paint at an extremely high level in his final year with the program. Johnson’s contributions over the years have been critical to on court team success in addition to his devotion to the city of Cleveland and the University.
Johnson was a Dennis Felton recruit who learned very early on in his collegiate career that change was not only apart of life, but also a major part of modern day college basketball. Under both Dennis Gates and Daniyal Robinson, Johnson developed into an elite defensive presence acting as a centerpiece for one of the league’s top defenses the last three years. His defensive prowess was honored with three straight All Defensive Team appearances in the Horizon League.
In addition to Johnson, fellow senior captain Deshon Parker played a pivotal role in the defensive scheme, oftentimes drawing the assignment of guarding the opposition’s most lethal perimeter scorer. A swarming pressure defense like Cleveland State needs to have a point guard that is not afraid to get overly aggressive while defending the opposition. Parker thrived in this role for the Vikings, earning All Defensive Team honors himself this season for the first time in his collegiate career. However, as was the case offensively, CSU was able to rely on a plethora of players on the defensive end to contribute in different ways throughout the season.
In addition to their work on the floor this year, the Vikings also continued the excellence of the Dennis Gates era both in the community and in the classroom. Senior captain Deshon Parker qualified for the 2022-2023 Horizon League All Academic Team this season which should not be overlooked whatsoever. CSU was Parker’s third stop in college and he used to wonder if he wanted to continue pursuing basketball. However, his perseverance and willingness to adapt to new situations in his life has made him a winner both on and off the floor. Cleveland State’s departing seniors all are the personification of what it means to be a Viking.
While it is still early in the transfer season, the Vikings were able to pick up another Junior College recruit recently, as the Vikings officially signed Jalin Rice to his Letter of Intent. The versatile guard is both a multi level scorer and a proficient passer, as the Vikings will look to replace the likes of Deshon Parker and Yahel Hill in the backcourt next season. Rice, a native of Madison Mississippi, spent the previous three seasons at Northeast Mississippi Community College, where he averaged over 16 points, five rebounds, and four assists per contest.