Big shoes to fill

 The careers of Steve McNees, Daryl Roberts, Brett McKnight and Mike Bardo came to end Friday afternoon after a 13-point loss to Notre Dame.


The careers of Steve McNees, Daryl Roberts, Brett McKnight and Mike Bardo came to end Friday afternoon after a 13-point loss to Notre Dame.

The loss in no way indicates the influence that the four seniors have had on the men’s basketball program over the last four seasons.

The roles and contributions vary, but this group of men took The University of Akron men’s basketball team to places it had never been before.

Prior to the 2007-08 season, the program had been to one NCAA tournament (1986), but the 2011 class added two more appearances (2009, 2011) in the Big Dance.

This group made the MAC Championship game all four years, this year winning it as a six seed.

The list of accomplishments could run as long as this page, but anyone who caught a game over the last four seasons knows these seniors were more than statistics and markings in the history books.

Steve McNees is a prime example of a player who meant more to the team than just the box score at the end of a ball game. A leader for four seasons, McNees was the heart and soul behind this group. It was hard not to admire his jumper, a quick release that came smooth off his hands every time he followed through. It was a pleasure watching him and how he conducted the game on a nightly basis.

The NCAA tournament game on Friday proved what kind of player Darryl Roberts can be. He locked up arguably one of the best guards in the nation in Ben Hansbrough, and did everything he could to will the Zips to victory. He will be remembered as a key ingredient to Akron’s two NCAA appearances over the past four seasons.

Brett McKnight’s patented back-down fade-away jumper was only a small part of the kind of player he proved to be for the Zips. Every time he stepped onto the floor, it was easy to spot his passion for the game of basketball and pride for the opportunity to represent his school. His two free throws to win the MAC Championship game this year capped off a great career for McKnight.

Forget not being the most talented man on the floor; Mike Bardo proved that attitude and work ethic can trump talent. He stands 6′ 10 but will dive for any loose ball. A high-character man, Bardo was another player who clearly enjoyed the game of basketball.           

From a player like McNees, who hit countless clutch shots in his Akron career, to a player like Bardo, who defined the phrase role player, the 2011 seniors will be remembered as one of the greatest classes in Akron basketball history.

The nail biters turned buzzer beaters, the championships turned to banner seasons; the product on and off the floor was one of the best there ever was on the campus of The University of Akron.