Scott Nagy ended the preseason with two new things.
He had a stylishly trimmed salt and pepper beard.
He had a point guard who was coming into his fourth college season but never had played a November or early December game for him.
Nagy ended up keeping one of his new additions and shaving the other. The beard, which he said was not favored by his wife, itched at times and bothered him.
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But the point guard – 5-foot-10 redshirt junior Cole Gentry – gives him no concerns at all.
“I spent a year and a half worrying about the point guard position and being able to handle the ball and all those things,” Nagy said in reference to his first two seasons at Wright State.
Last season, in fact, the point guard at the beginning of the season – veteran Justin Mitchell – quit the team in January. Some of that coincided with the emergence of Gentry, who had begun playing in mid-December after sitting out a year to adhere to NCAA transfer rules.
This season with Gentry, Nagy said: “I don’t have to worry about (the point guard position) at all.
I know what he does for me. It’s one player I don’t actually have to think about. I don’t have to spend any time worrying about the position in terms of how he plays, his attitude and all those things.
“He’s the ultimate team guy. He’s the hardest worker on the team. He works his tail off in practice and in the offseason he’s in the gym all the time.
“With Cole. I just don’t have to worry.”
Nagy certainly had no worries about him Wednesday night as Wright State topped Toledo, 84-74, at the Nutter Center.
Gentry scored a career-high 30 points and put on a show doing it:
•He hit four of seven three point attempts, including back-to-back treys late in the first half that lifted WSU away from what had been a one-point game.
•He made driving lay-ups several times and on one he became a contortionist. Early in the second half, when a defender in the lane forced him to go under the basket and veer toward the baseline, he managed to reach back – even with his momentum taking his body in the opposite direction – and flip a scoop shot into the cylinder.
•When his drives drew defenders, he passed the ball out to teammates on the perimeter for open shots.
•He ended the game mimicking Marques Haynes, the dribbling wizard of the Harlem Globetrotters who, according to the 1988 film “Harlem Globetrotters: Six Decades of Magic,” could supposedly dribble the ball 348 times in a minute.
At first Gentry said he’d never heard of Haynes. But when I mentioned Globetrotters, he nodded, “Oh yeah, the guy who dribbled.”
You could say the same about him Wednesday as he closed out the final minutes dribbling through, around and past the Rockets as if they were the Washington Generals.
“You leave the ball in his hands and you know he’ll be able to handle the pressure and make the right plays,” said Raiders big man Loudon Love, who finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots.
The only thing Toledo could do was foul Gentry and that didn’t work either.
He made all eight of his free throw attempts, six in the final 51.4 seconds. Taking little time at the line, he made them look easy.
“I think other guys get up there and they take their time and think about it too much,” he said. “I know what to do. I just like to get it, take one dribble and shoot it. I believe it’s going in.”
It seems to work.
He’s made 11 of 12 this season for 91.7 percent accuracy.
Circuitous route to Wright State
Gentry said he was 5-foot-4 as a sophomore in high school, but that his size never deterred him:
“I didn’t worry about it. I figured I’d just work with what I got.”
He ended up starring at St. Charles East High School in Chicago’s western suburbs and, as Nagy noted, was “one of the top 20 players in the Chicago area.”
And yet, Gentry said he got just three Division I scholarship offers – Maryland Baltimore County, Furman and South Dakota State – and they all came late in his senior season.
He explained his situation to me once before:
“Sometimes guys don’t pass the eye test. I’m not 6-foot-3. I don’t have long arms. I don’t jump as high as some guys.”
But as he put it, the eye test “doesn’t measure a player’s heart, his will.”
Nagy was the coach at South Dakota State during Gentry’s senior season and he and assistant coach Brian Cooley liked what they saw in the heady, point guard.
“Yeah, he’s a 5-foot-10 kid and everybody that looks at him goes, ‘He’s not big enough… He’s not big enough.’
“But we loved how he played – his toughness and his passion for the game.”
Nagy signed him and the Jackrabbits redshirted him his first season in college.
The following season (2016-17) Nagy and most of his staff left for Wright State. Gentry stayed at SDSU, played in the first 10 games and started four, but decided to leave because the offense had changed and the program didn’t seem like the perfect fit any more.
He transferred to Wright State in midseason and had to sit out the final three months of that season and the first nine games last year.
He joined the team for the final 25 games, started 20, averaged 9.1 points and 2.6 assists and was one of the prime reasons the Raiders won the Horizon League Tournament and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 years.
His role this season has taken on added importance with the recent loss of sophomore guard Jaylon Hall — who struggled in the rout at Murray State last Saturday, going 0- for-9 from the floor — and will undergo shoulder surgery.
Playing a full season
Until it was mentioned Wednesday night that this could be his first full season of college basketball, Gentry said he hadn’t thought about it:
“It’s my fourth year in college, so I’m excited to play a full season. I love playing with these dudes. I love playing for these coaches and playing in front of these fans and for this school. I’m very thankful to be here.”
Gentry leads the team in three-point field goal percentage (46.2), assists and steals. He’s second in scoring average (16.3), field goal percentage (57.1) and free throws (though the leader, Hall, is just 2 for 2.)
“Cole’s college career didn’t start the way he wanted it to,” Nagy said. “I’m just happy he’s getting some of the fruits now because of how hard he’s worked.”
And Nagy is happy.
He walked out of the postgame press room with a big smile, one you could see all the more on his clean-shaven face.