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Pluto: Akron's remarkable basketball season is no fluke
Coach Dambrot's nine seasons at Akron have been peppered with success but this season is special 
by WKSU's AMANDA RABINOWITZ


Morning Edition Host
Amanda Rabinowitz
 
Pluto says 7-foot center Zeke Marshall picked Akron to play basketball because he was impressed with the school's computer program.
Courtesy of The University of Akron
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The University of Akron men’s basketball team is making history this season. This week, the Zips got their first national ranking in team history – No. 24 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. And tonight, they look to extend their nation-leading winning streak to 19 games.

WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says coach Keith Dambrot has led the team to 20 wins in seven of his nine seasons, but there are several factors that make this season remarkable. 

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Dambrot's passion for Akron
Keith Dambrot came to the University of Akron by way of St. Vincent St. Mary High School just down the street, where he coached LeBron James. He’s been at the university for nine years, and Pluto expects he’ll stick around for at least another nine years or so. After all, he already turned down nearly twice the pay at Duquesne University and, says Pluto, “This is his dream job.”

“I think his goal is to put together a team that frankly could win a game in the NCAA tournament. He’s hoping this is the one.”

Key Cleveland-area players
The reason for his hope rests in part with Demetrius “Tree” Treadwell and Nick Harney, two Cleveland area juniors who had to sit out their first year at Akron until they got their grades up to NCAA levels.

But it’s a third player that seems to have really cemented things – 7-foot center named Zeke Marshall, who came to Akron from McKeesport, Pa.

A 7-foot computer nerd
“Usually, if you have a 7-footer in the MAC, he’s a guy who can barely take three steps without falling over the line painted on the floor. Seven footers who can do anything just don’t end up in the Mid American Conference, Pluto says.

But what drew Marshall to Akron wasn’t the basketball court. It was its computer major.

“He’s a 7-foot computer nerd.  … That’s why he’s here instead of at Pitt or one of these Big East schools or Syracuse.”

Adds Pluto: “Having Zeke Marshall, at 7 foot who blocks a ton of shots, is the reason I really think they have a chance to do something at the NCAA.” He also thinks Marshall will be a second rounder in the NBA draft.

Winning the MAC is the goal
But first, comes the MAC tournament. That’s important because Pluto says even making it to the NCAA tournament without winning the MAC tournament is a long shot;  it hasn’t happened since 1999. And getting to the MAC tournament means overcoming teams like Ohio University, which Akron faces tonight.

MAC getting respect?
Meanwhile, Pluto says the Mid-American Confeerence itself seems to be getting more respect, in large part of the performances in football, basketball and baseball of two of its schools just 15 miles – Kent State and Akron.

“Not to knock the minor sports, but this is playing with the big boys. To me that’s really been remarkable.”

Though Pluto acknowledged Akron’s long-time dominance in soccer has boosted the MAC as well. 

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