Sunday, January 11, 2004

NKU guards finally on same page again


Four years after teaming up at Elder, backcourt duo reunited as starters

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All Northern Kentucky University guard Mike Kelsey has to do is hold up his fist, and point guard Sean Rowland knows exactly what to do.

It's game time. Kelsey gives the signal. Rowland's "eyes get really big," Kelsey says, as Rowland dribbles at the top of the key. Kelsey pops out like he's going to catch the ball - then burns his defender as he goes back door for the pass and an easy basket.

"It works every time," Kelsey says, laughing. "When we watch (game tapes), we can hear scouts yell 'Here it comes! They're going back door! Back door!' "

Coaches prepare for it and players have been warned, but the tandem doesn't miss a beat. After being teammates for eight years, playing ball has become second nature.

But they've been waiting four years to show off their skills as Norse teammates. For the first time since playing for Elder in 2000, Kelsey and Rowland have reunited as starters on the hardcourt.

"Their chemistry is very special," NKU coach Ken Shields says. "Their familiarity goes way back to early high school, so they know each other's game very, very well."

Kelsey accepted a Norse scholarship entering his freshman year. Rowland had committed to Ohio Dominican University but changed his mind after spending the summer with Kelsey and other Norse players. He enrolled in NKU by the summer's end.

Both players red-shirted as freshmen. The next year, Kelsey played his way into the starting rotation while Rowland, for the most part, watched from the bench.

"To see me out there playing more than him ... it put a damper on things," Kelsey says.

After averaging 8.9 minutes and less than a point per game last season, Rowland didn't want to squander any opportunities. He impressed Shields with his tenacity and work ethic and won the position for the fall.

"I know I'm not the quickest player in the world, but I knew I had to find ways to play against quick players in the league. I felt I was defensively good enough to start at point guard," Rowland says.

The offensive assets were already there. Rowland, who ranks third all time in assists at Elder, eased into the Norse's season assists lead. He ranks second in the Great Lakes Valley Conference in assists per game (5.13).

Team scoring leader Kelsey (18.8 ppg) is reaping Rowland's assists while forging one of his best seasons yet. Kelsey scored a school-record 50 points Jan. 2 in a loss to Indianapolis, shooting 16-of-25 from the field - 9-of-13 from 3-point range.

The Norse entered the season unranked in the polls and were projected to finish fifth in the GLVC preseason coaches' poll. Four senior stars departed from an NKU team that went 25-6 and won the conference tournament last season.

Critics questioned this season's Norse, but the team has surpassed some expectations. Its success, Shields says, is a credit to its backcourt.

"No question about it, their basic awareness of each other has helped bring everyone together," Shields says.

Kelsey and Rowland are seniors academically but will return to NKU next fall as graduate students. They each have one season of eligibility remaining, which could translate to another year together in the backcourt.

And that was part of the original plan. "What we always wanted," Rowland says, "was to play together at college."

Others

• Northern Kentucky University's Mike Kelsey (Elder) was named the Great Lakes Valley Conference tri-player of the week in men's basketball. Kelsey averaged 28 points a game - including a school-record 50 points against Indianapolis Jan. 2 - as the Norse won two of three contests.

• Ohio State freshman defender Melissa Miller (Colerain) earned NSCAA women's soccer third-team All-America honors and is the program's second All-American in school history. Miller also earned All-Big Ten honors and All-Great Lakes Region honors. Co-captain Erica Nollen (Lakota East) was named a second-team Academic All-American.

• Loyola-Chicago senior forward Paul McMillan (Aiken) scored a career-best 26 points and added 10 rebounds to lift the Ramblers over Youngstown State 85-78 on Jan. 3. McMillan is averaging team highs in scoring (17.6 ppg) and rebounding (8 rpg).

• Otterbein senior guard Diana Esterkamp (McAuley) was named the Ohio Athletic Conference women's basketball player of the week. She was named the "O" Club Classic Tournament's most valuable player, helping in wins over Centre, 66-39, and Hanover, 75-63, Dec. 27-28. She recorded 15 points, nine rebounds, 16 assists and three steals in the two-day event.

• Jeralee Hartman (Western Brown) was recognized as the 2003 Women's Cross Country MVP at the United States Military Academy Preparatory School. She was the Golden Knights' lead runner for all seven of their meets.

• Mount Vernon Nazarene senior guard Andy Dunn (Lakota West) scored 28 points, including six 3-pointers, in a loss to Malone on Jan. 8. Dunn is averaging a team-high 19.9 points.

• Miami junior David Mitchell was named the Division I Male Athlete of the Year by the Ohio Collegiate Cross Country Coaches Association. RedHawks senior Andrea Kremer was named the Division I Female Athlete of the Year, and Dr. Richard Ceronie was named the Division I Coach of the Year.

• Miami senior forward Colleen Day was named the Mid-American Conference's East Division player of the week after scoring 16 points in an 84-63 defeat of Portland Dec. 28. She became the sixth Miami player to reach 600 career rebounds with eight that game, moving into the program's top five all time for career rebounding.

• Wittenberg senior Haley Warden (Indian Hill) posted her seventh double-double of the season Dec. 30 and leads the Tigers in scoring (13.5 ppg) and rebounding (10.2 rpg). Amber Bishop (Batavia) scored in double figures in eight of the Tigers' first 12 games.

• Mount St. Joseph announced that Bryan Hagopian was hired as the first men's and women's track and field coach. Hagopian also will be the Lions' head cross country coach in the fall. The Mount begins its inaugural track and field season this winter and will continue as an outdoor sport in the spring.

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E-mail srussell@enquirer.com




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