Vikings primed for another magical season
Upon reflecting on the 2022-2023 season, the first year for Cleveland State under Daniyal Robinson and his staff could not have gone better. Robinson would speak on being “caretakers” of what Dennis Gates had established at CSU. While the Vikings came up short of their ultimate goal, their resiliency and willingness to adapt to uncomfortable situations will bode well for another championship run this season.
“We had a bit of an edge last year, and I think that’s only grown. You work so hard and you get so close. Now we have guys that have experienced it.” Robinson proclaimed at Horizon League Media Day.
After an auspicious beginning, the Vikings were able to steady the ship, finishing the season with a 21-14 record, and a 14-6 mark in league play. Their league record earned them the three seed in the conference tournament, where the Vikings battled all the way to the title game before falling to Northern Kentucky. Despite the disappointing ending a year ago, Cleveland State is in fantastic position to pick up where they left off with many returning players and intriguing new pieces being added to the mix.
“All the new guys came in and have worked really hard…” Robinson told the HoriZone Roundtable. “…It’s been a different summer for us, having lots of guys returning with a new staff…the new guys have adapted really quickly.”
Tevin Smith – The Vikings were on the hunt for a new point guard over the summer with the graduation of Deshon Parker, and Robinson was able to find someone with both a similar build and skillset to Parker, a first team all league defender from a season ago. Smith, a 6-4 junior guard from Danville, Illinois, comes to CSU after spending his first two collegiate seasons at the University of Denver where he started in 46 games for the Pioneers. Smith’s downhill mentality will allow for the Vikings to play an attacking style of offense as he attempts 56% of his shots from the painted area. Being able to post up smaller defenders will also be a luxury for Smith and the Vikings, as it was last season with Parker.
Drew Lowder – Lowder was a source of instant offense for the Vikings last season as the 5-11 senior was the team’s premier three point shot taker and maker a season ago as he shot 33% from behind the arc in addition to just under ten points per game. However, the Vikings depth in the backcourt could cut into Lowder’s minutes this season if he is not shooting well on a given night. Players like Pryor, Jalin Rice, and Chase Robinson have all impressed in preseason camp which will make Robinson’s backcourt a crowded group. However, Lowder’s experience in the system and pure shot making ability will be leaned on at times as it was last year as well.
Tae Williams – Cleveland State’s most improved player from the beginning of the season last year absolutely has to be Williams. Once the game slowed down for him, he became one of the most exciting players to watch in the entire conference with his rare combination of size, ball handling ability, and pure athleticism at the mid major level. Williams thrives in the open floor as both a passer and scorer with elite finishing capabilities in transition. Additionally, he began to play better off ball as the season went on, as his cutting can put stress on any defense with his long arms and ability to also find the open man. Williams is capable to taking not only another step with his on court production, but he is also looking to become a more vocal leader for the group, as he stated during his media day interview.
Tristan Enaruna – Cleveland State’s first team all conference contributor from a season ago had the unique opportunity over the summer to compete in the FIBA Cup for his native Netherlands. When asked about this experience at Horizon League Media Day, Enaruna stated, “I don’t wanna be too stuck in what I did last year…I wanna build off of that. I think my experience with the national team will help with that. The competition I played against playing against pros…that definitely showed me a little bit that I can bring to college this year.” Enaruna will once again be featured as one of the Vikings’ centerpieces, as he will look to improve his outside shooting game to take his talents to the next level.
KJ Debrick – Another void was left in the starting lineup with the departure of Deante Johnson, who is currently playing professionally overseas. While there are multiple directions in which the Vikings can go due to the tremendous depth Robinson has put together, Debrick is the most talented natural center on the roster, as he possesses both shot blocking ability the potential to produce in multiple facets on the offensive end. A former Junior College teammate of Williams at John A. Logan college in Illinois, Debrick started in 55 games for Logan and played a key role in a NJCAA National Championship for the Volunteers in 2022-2023 as he converted on the game winning basket in a 73-70 victory.
Ramar Pryor – The incoming sophomore appeared in 31 games for Cleveland State a season ago, saving his best performance for the Vikings’ biggest moment of the season, a ten point performance in the conference semi-finals versus Milwaukee. Robinson lauded Pryor’s offseason work ethic, as the Akron native was the most visible member of the team at the facilities over the offseason according to Robinson. Even though Pryor mostly played sparingly during his 31 appearances, he more often than not made an impact on either offense or defense. Look for Pryor to play a major role this year for the Vikings whether it be in the starting lineup some nights, or as a key reserve off the bench. Pryor was a Gates recruit, but officially committed to CSU after getting the opportunity to meet with Robinson in May 2022. Retaining recruits like Pryor and incoming freshman Daniel Young has been a major coup for Robinson and his staff.
Jalin Rice – One of Cleveland State’s new acquisitions, Rice comes to Cleveland after three seasons of junior college ball at Northeast Mississippi Community College. Rice possesses a tremendous feel for the game offensively, as he has the ability to score from all three levels in addition to being a proficient passer. Last year for the Tigers, Rice was a key contributor as he averaged 16 points, nearly six rebounds, and four assists per game in 24 starting appearances. Additionally, Rice will certainly give Tae Williams a run for his money in terms of who the best pure athlete on the team is, as his high flying dunks will tantalize the Wolstein Center crowds this upcoming season.
Jayson Woodrich – CSU’s current longest tenured player returns for his junior season as Woodrich looks to continue to improve his overall game and help the Vikings off the bench with some much needed long distance shooting. The Beachwood, Ohio native has seen his minutes fluctuate over the course of his Viking career thus far, but his willingness to stay ready at any given moment has helped earn the trust of Robinson and his staff. Woodrich looks to have put on some weight for this year, something that should help him on both ends of the floor. Woodrich will have an extra year of eligibility next season due to the COVID pandemic if he chooses to use it.
Dylan Arnett – Another member of the Viking bench unit who worked hard on his physical frame in the offseason was incoming sophomore Dylan Arnett. Arnett played only sparingly a season ago due to Deante Johnson’s presence. However, Arnett will likely be counted on for a rotation spot this year due to his size and year of experience learning behind a player like Spider Johnson. Arnett’s steady improvement over his freshman season was also not lost on Robinson, as he explained how Arnett struggled at the beginning of the year with scoring on Johnson in practices. However, those lessons will only serve him well in the future as Arnett began to feel more comfortable as the season went along last year. With CSU needing big bodies who can contribute on a guard heavy roster, look for Arnett to get some looks early in the season.
Fresh off a trip to the conference championship game a season ago in his first season as a collegiate head coach, it is all systems go for Robinson and the Vikings in year two of his tenure. This year’s Cleveland State team has all the makings of a special group due to not only their top end talent, but the tremendous depth that Robinson and his staff have put together. The Vikings will look to learn from their experiences last season and take the next collective step as a unit; getting back to the NCAA Tournament, something that could be a real possibility if they truly embrace the process and getting better one day at a time.
HoriZone Roundtable Prediction
Miss anything from Preview Week? Check it all out below: