Men’s college basketball: Cummings makes his mark

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AUBURN — Kazre Cummings had already been witness to too much wasted time and too many wasted lives.

When Cummings reached a crossroads in high school, he chose the road less travelled. The Warwick, R.I. native wanted something more for himself and less of the influences he had seen as a young athlete. He lived not far from well-known gang territories.

“There’s a lot of negativity around the environment,” Cummings said. “There’s a lot of bad influences. I felt I needed the opportunity to get away from that and really challenge myself and find myself as a person and see what talent I actually had. I didn’t think I’d be able to excel with those bad influences around me.”

So instead of accepting a football scholarship to the University of Rhode Island, he chose basketball at Central Maine Community College. It was one of the toughest choices he’d made in his life, but he’s convinced it was a right one.

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“I wanted to challenge myself and be independent,” Cummings said. “When I knew I had this opportunity, it excited me. I never looked back from that decision.”

Cummings is thankful for the people that supported him and for the community that embraced him. In his first season at CMCC, he was a starter and averaged 11.4 points and 6.8 rebounds.

Now Cummings is the lone returning starter. He can no longer be the complimentary player he was a year ago but that’s OK with him.

“I embraced that role,” Cummings said. “We had a successful season last year. I was surrounded by a lot of great players and a great coaching staff. I took a lot from that season, and I learned a lot. I wanted to improve as a basketball player, and I wanted to become more of a leader. I knew I had potential and I believe coach sees that potential in me as well. So coming into this season, that was my focus.”

It won’t be an easy role for the 6-foot-5 Cummings. He’s a tremendous athlete and can be a force in the paint, but it will be a daunting task to fulfill.

“When he sets his mind to it, he plays hard,” CMCC men’s coach Dave Gonyea said. “You can’t defend him around the basket. Kazre’s challenge is that he’s got to guard 6-5, 6-6 or 6-8 players every night. It’s a real challenge because he’s really our size.”

Much of the offense went through the guards last season. Cummings cleaned up on the boards and got his points in the paint but wasn’t the main focus of the offense. The backcourt won’t be as seasoned this year.

“He was surrounded by guard play that was excellent,” said Gonyea, who says he expects Cummings to post a double-double every night. “We had great guard play. There’s more pressure on him this year because we don’t have the guard play we had last year. We’re getting better with that, but we’re replacing three guys that were all-conference. That’s three solid players that knew how to play the game.”

Cummings is already a leader among the Mustangs. Though he and teammate Xavier Colbert are quiet guys, their work in the weight room speaks volumes.

“If you want to know how to work, watch those two,” Gonyea said. “I’ve been here 21 years, and I’ve never seen kids work so hard in my life. They’re real role models in that respect. They’re role models in how they conduct themselves. I think a lot of guys look up to them.”

That’s exactly what pushes Cummings. He wants to make a difference, whether it is on the court, in the weight room, in the classroom or in the CMCC community.

“I always wanted to create a legacy,” Cummings said. “That was always my biggest goal, my dream and vision – to have a legacy and to have a standing that people can follow. While I’m here and when I moved forward from here, that is what pushes me. When I’m in the weight room or on the basketball court or in the classroom, I think about that constantly. How do I want to represent myself and the program as well?”

Cummings was a standout receiver and defensive back in high school and was recruited by URI. He had played basketball as well. He began playing varsity his sophomore year and started his junior year. He admits his senior season wasn’t anything outstanding, but his interest in the game had evolved.

“I did continue to get better, and by my senior year, I really started growing a passion for basketball,” he said.” I had kind of lost that for football.”

So he brought that passion to CMCC and now has the opportunity to make an even greater mark as a Mustang this season.

“I’ve always had an interest in basketball and always wanted to see what my potential might lead to, “ Cummings said.  “As good a team as we were last year, I always wanted that role. I understood the style that we were and the players that we had. I didn’t need to take the role.

kmills@sunjournal.com

CMCC Men’s Basketball

Last year’s record : 31-3, lost in USCAA DII quarterfinals

Returning players: So F Kazre Cummings (11.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg), So G Carrington Miller (8.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg), So G Xavier Colbert (7.5 ppg,  3.3 rpg), So. F Robbie Babb (1.7 ppg), So. G Josh Thomas (2.4 ppg), Jr. G Chris Semedo (4.8 ppg), So G Ray Monroe (4.1 ppg), Jr. G Preston Isner (3.3 ppg)

Promising newcomers:  Fr. F Howie Stone, Fr. F Brevin Graves, Fr. G Jeremy Suero.

Overview: Matching what the Mustangs did last year will be a tall order, especially with Cummings being the only returning starter.

Still, CMCC has a number of returning players with one-year under their belt. Gonyea says he hasn’t had this many quality players back in some time. But those players still have to step into larger roles.

“It’s hard because you have a certain responsibility that you have to live up to every game,” Miller said. “You have to go out and perform every night because you have guys looking up to you. You have to make sure you get it done every night.”

Gonyea has set a starting unit of Cummings, Miller, Graves, Colvert and Monroe. Though he’ll use an abundance of the roster while pressing for most of each game, the Mustangs are still trying to fit the pieces together and finding whose strengths fit best with what group.

“Since day one, we’ve come a long ways, but we still have a longs ways to go,” Miller said. “I think the guys have a good attitude. We’ve been working hard every night. I can see improvement every day. I think we’re headed in the right direction.”

The Mustangs have a number of new players that could make an impact as well, led by the freshmen group of Graves, Suero and Stone, a Greenville grad.

“We have a lot of potential,” Miller said. “It so hard to live up to last year’s expectations, but I think we can go a long ways if we can keep working hard every night.”

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