CHICAGO - Junior guard Tyrone Kent has had one of the biggest scoring jumps from last season in the country. He's the second-leading scorer in the Mid-American Conference and near the top in several other statistical categories.
It's the perfect time for Kent's parents to have their first experience watching him play college basketball.
When the University of Toledo plays the University of Illinois-Chicago tonight at 8, the game will be played down the street from where Kent grew up. Father Tyrone Kent and stepmother Debra Kent, among many other supporters, will be in attendance.
"His parents have never seen him play in college," UT coach Stan Joplin said. "His high school coach has, but his family hasn't. It will be good to do that."
Another UT starter, Jerrah Young, is also from Chicago, the South Side. Joplin hopes Young and Kent take the cue from their Massachusetts-born teammates and play as well in their home state as Ridley Johnson and Corey Bingham did last weekend at UMass.
"We hope that they both have a bounce in their step and come with a little more energy," Joplin said.
Kent has had some recent success in his hometown. Over the summer he played in the Chicago Pro-Am league on a team coached by his high school coach, Crane Technical's Anthony Longstreet.
Kent had to go back to school before it finished, but he was one of the top players in the highly respected league. The extra practice has paid off. He has gone from averaging 5.7 points per game as a sophomore to 18.5 this season, and also leads the team in assists.
Now teams are designing defenses specifically for him, such as at UMass when he was often double-teamed. The Minutemen had a defense called "Special" they used on him.
"It just helps make me better," Kent said of the opposing strategies. "I can work on other parts of the game. I can get my teammates into the game, grab rebounds and play smart."
As a senior, Young is in his first year as a full-time starter. He attended St. Rita's High School in Chicago but has not played in the city since.
"The closest I've ever been was Northern Illinois and that's still about an hour away," Young said. "This is right there so more people can make it. I think they'll be excited to see me get more playing time and be more of a factor."
It's the last of eight nonconference road games for UT (2-8). Although this is the last game for the Rockets before a break lasting nearly seven days, Joplin doesn't think the team will be distracted by the approaching rest and relaxation time.
"The guys need a break, [but] I don't think they'll be looking ahead," Joplin said. "They don't like practice but they like to play in games, that's for sure."
The Flames (6-4) are 4-0 at the UIC Pavilion this year. Junior guard Josh Mayo leads UIC with 18.8 points per game, and is making 59 percent of his 3-point attempts. The Flames are shooting 45 percent from 3-point range.
"We're going to get tested in how well we defend the 3-point shot because they do a nice job," Joplin said. "They shoot the ball much better at home so we have got to make sure we can keep them under control."
Junior Scott Vandermeer is also a contributor. Vandermeer played at Bowling Green his freshman year in 2004-05 before transferring to UIC. Now 7-foot, 260 pounds, Vandermeer was listed at 225 pounds his only year at BG.
As a junior he is averaging 10 points and six rebounds per game.
"Vandermeer is playing well and blocking a lot of shots," Joplin said. "We've got to find out what his diet is and give it to Justin [Anyijong]."
After tonight the Rockets don't play until Dec. 29 at home against Oakland.
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