“I feel that it is in the best interest of Kennesaw State men’s basketball that Lewis returns to coaching the team at the conclusion of this season,” Williams said in the release. “I have the utmost confidence in this program, and that the current student-athletes, assistant coaches and coach Preston will take this program in the right direction.”
Williams has the utmost confidence in Preston and the coaching staff.
Why? To this point, they haven’t given the fan base much to cheer about.
In the nearly three seasons since Preston was hired, Kennesaw State is 10-73 overall and 3-42 in Atlantic Sun play. Forty-seven times, the Owls have lost by double digits, by at least 18 points 23 times and by 30 or more six times.
In that same time, Kennesaw State is 6-28 at home, with only three wins against Division I opponents.
The Owls, 4-18 this year, with a 1-8 record in A-Sun play, are on a five-game losing streak heading into Friday’s game at USC Upstate. They have six losing streaks of seven games or longer under Preston’s watch, and that includes skids of 19 and 13 games.
Talking with a number of coaches in the area, they are convinced that KSU’s basketball program could be successful again.
One local high school coach took it a step further. He said the goal for the Owls should be to win the Atlantic Sun and make the NCAA tournament. He also said that, to do that, he wouldn’t have to recruit outside the metro-Atlanta area.
That would be a great move for a fan base that is predominantly from Cobb, Cherokee and Paulding counties, but it almost seems as if the current coaches have ignored the talent available in their backyard. Last year, Cobb County became the first county in state history to send three teams — Hillgrove, North Cobb, Wheeler — to the semifinals in the state’s highest classification.
Yet, over the last three seasons, KSU has signed more players from St. Edward High School in Cleveland — Delbert Love and Myles Hamilton — than Cobb, Cherokee and Paulding combined (zero).
According to Owl Howl, a blog dedicated to KSU sports and recruiting information, the current staff has offered more scholarships for the high school class of 2014 to players in Ohio and Indiana (nine) than Georgia (seven).
With local students attending a local university, it would seem to make sense that local players would help draw more interest to the program.
When Florida Gulf Coast came to campus last weekend, the KSU Convocation Center should have been near its capacity of 4,700 fans. Instead, when last year’s NCAA tournament darling came to campus, the athletic department had to use the gimmick of a Sci-fi Day with Darth Vader and Stormtroopers to draw a reported crowd of just over 1,600 fans.
A Sweet 16 team nicknamed “Dunk City” was in the building and the student section was less than half full.
We are only 10 years removed from Kennesaw State posting a 35-4 record and winning a Division II national championship. With the exception of a banner that seems to blend in with the background at the Convocation Center, that team has become an afterthought. There isn’t a single mention of it in the KSU basketball team’s media guide.
With the Owls’ new football program scheduled to kick off in the fall of 2015, it has already become the dominant topic of conversation on campus. That was no more evident than the last two weeks, when the athletic department entered into sponsorship agreements worth a combined $4.25 million with WellStar and Superior Plumbing.
While all the money will go into the general athletic fund, it’s no coincidence that the business leaders of both companies took photos with Williams and university president Dan Papp holding a Kennesaw State football helmet.
The football team is about to sign its first recruiting class, which means that, as the basketball team begins its 2014-15 schedule, the football team will be finishing its first fall practice.
That suggests the men’s basketball team will have one more chance to capture a fan base ready to win again.
It should start with a new basketball coach, some local players and a few more wins. Without it, football will completely take over, and men’s basketball, as a whole, will become an afterthought, too.
John Bednarowski is sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jbednarowski.