AKRON, Ohio — The University of Akron Zips men’s basketball team boarded a chartered bus Tuesday afternoon leaving for Auburn Hills, Mich., and a first round NCAA Tournament match-up with the Rams of Virginia Commonwealth University.
Before leaving, the team under head coach Keith Dambrot ran through an up-tempo practice at the James A. Rhodes Arena on campus.
“We know what we are in for, obviously nobody knows VCU better than me, and they know us as well as anyone in the country too,” said Dambrot.
Dambrot admits talking frequently during the season with VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart, a former assistant at the University of Akron.
“We know what we are going to get. We are going to get a lot of pressure, full court pressure, half court pressure. We have to be strong with the ball, so we have to try to simulate that in practice,” said Dambrot.
A small group of students and supporters rallied as team members boarded the bus.
“We belong, there’s no doubt about it. This is the third team we have taken, and we have overcome every bit of adversity we have faced since we have been here, and we have a big strong team. If we can get the ball down where it belongs, we are going to give them a lot of problems,” said Dambrot.
“The thing about it that’s crazy is you can have a good team every year in this league and never got to the NCAA tournament, because it’s a one-bid league,” said Dambrot. “We have gone three times in five years, so our guys are very, very excited. We had a disappointing game last year where we lost by a point so they were very hungry to come back and be successful. So emotionally they are ready to play. I think they don’t like to practice as much as the game.”
Akron center Zeke Marshall guarantees a win.
“Y’all are going to love that, I know,” said Marshall. “I’m in a position to where we can accomplish the goals that we as a team wanted to accomplish at the beginning of the year. We have a goal that we want to get to and we are going to run over people until we get it.”
“We lost to them last year but we are going to beat them where it matters the most, and I’m confident enough to say that because they are in our way,” said Marshall.
Before leaving, University of Akron’s Vice President of Strategic Engagement Jim Tressel spoke privately with the team in the gym, offering words of encouragement.
The former Youngstown State University and Ohio State University head football coach’s words were kept private from the media.
“Coach Tressel just hit it on the head, you know, just positive thinking throughout the entire game whether we are up ten or down ten, at all times you have got to think positive, stick together and not splinter,” said senior guard Brian Walsh.
On campus, many students are excited about the school being represented in the tournament and even those who say they have not followed college basketball closely vow to do so in the coming days.
“Excited to watch them play. I hope they can make a run,” said Kelly Meenan.
“I think its amazing for them, especially losing their point guard. I think its good they pulled it together, and they are going to the tournament,” said Kelsey Wolf.
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