Coming off their first loss of the season, the Ohio Bobcats head up to Akron to play in the Akron Classic this weekend. Their first matchup is against Coach Bob Boldon's old friend in Florida Gulf Coast University. Not only is the school familiar, but Boldon learned much of his coaching style from head coach Karl Smesko.
The two first met at Walsh University back in Boldon's playing days at Walsh. Smesko was the women's head coach at the time. Boldon was Smesko's assistant coach in the 1997-1998 season, where they both took the Cavaliers to the NAIA Division II National Championship and a 29-5 record.
Boldon then followed Smesko in 1999 to Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where they both went through a massive rebuilding program. Before they got to IPFW, the Mastadons were 2-24; within their two-year stint, IPFW went 13-14 and 19-8.
They continued to work together at FGCU in 2002. Combined over their four years together, Smesko & Boldon went 85-34 at all three schools. 13 years later, the two coaches are facing off for the first time with very similar offensive styles of play.
"Ohio U has a good team. Their core group is back, and they're ready to play," Smesko said.
"They're difficult to guard, because they really stretch you out with a lot of shooters on the floor. You need to keep track of a lot of different players. You got to know where all five players are at all times," Boldon said.
One of the Eagles key players is the stellar 6'3" guard in Whitney Knight, who was one of the best 3-point shooters in the NCAA across both the men and women's divisions. She totaled 504 points, 217 rebounds, 87 blocks, 66 steals, and 91 3-pointers. But she is out with a fractured foot, so Boldon has to worry about other things.
"It will be a little bit of cat and mouse. Sometimes we'll win that battle, and sometimes we'll lose it," Boldon said.
The Eagles will also have a tough task to guard Ohio's tag team in Quiera Lampkins and Kiyanna Black. Both were named to the 2015-2016 All-MAC preseason teams. Lampkins averaged 13 points a game, and Black was just ahead of her with an average of 16 points a game last season. Lampkins led the ‘Cats with 214 rebounds, and Black led Ohio with 512 points.
"Kiyanna Black is a good shooter who doesn't need a lot of space. She can drive, and she's a multi-dimensional player. Lampkins is crafty in getting to the rim. They're very talented and have a nice supporting cast," Smesko said.
Although the ‘Cats are looking to come into the Akron Classic strong and trying to move past the loss to Illinois, this game against the Eagles will be one of their toughest non-conference matchups this season.
"I have a ton of respect for what they do. Really, I'm not looking forward to it that much. I'd rather watch them play and cheer for them than play against them, so to speak. We're going to try our best to win and do everything we can to beat them. It'll be quite a challenge," Boldon said.
Smesko said, "I feel the same. I love watching his teams play. Bob has proven to be one of the best coaches in Division I. From his turnaround at Youngstown State and now Ohio, it's tough to put together an impressive resume that he has. It's weird competing against someone you've worked so close with over the years. Neither one of us were really looking forward to this."