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St. Charles East

Gentry still 'loves the gym' as redshirt wanes

S.D. St. guard supports NCAA-bound team

South Dakota State guard Cole Gentry, a 2015 St. Charles East graduate, is redshirting his freshman men's basketball season at the school but will accompany the Jackrabbits to Friday's NCAA tournament game against Maryland.
South Dakota State guard Cole Gentry, a 2015 St. Charles East graduate, is redshirting his freshman men's basketball season at the school but will accompany the Jackrabbits to Friday's NCAA tournament game against Maryland.

St. Charles East alumnus Cole Gentry figures to bask in some screen time on TBS late Friday afternoon.

Nah, this isn't a set-up for the cable network's "Very funny" tagline. Gentry, a guard, is redshirting his freshman season for the South Dakota State men's basketball team, which faces Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament at approximately 3:20 p.m. Central time.

Gentry practices with the Jackrabbits and spends games offering support from the bench. South Dakota State wears blue and yellow, but Gentry hardly is the former when it comes to his decision.

"I'm looking forward to hitting the ground running next year," he said.

A 5-foot-10, 180-pound business economics major, Gentry earned his first college basketball experience during the Jackrabbits' exhibition season.

He contributed eight points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals in a combined 26 minutes in separate home blowouts of South Dakota Mines and Dakota Wesleyan in late October and early November. Gentry would like to think he showcased his full repertoire, but knows that wasn't quite the case.

Not when he failed to connect on each of his five 3-point attempts, anyway.

"The biggest adjustment has been with the physicality," Gentry said. "I feel like I have a good grasp and handle of the speed, but it's really the physicality, especially when you're fronting someone down low."

It's likely several Saints faithful are penciling Summit League tournament champion SDSU to advance past Big Ten at-large Maryland in their NCAA brackets simply because of the Gentry connection, redshirt be darned.

Imagine how the ratio might favor the 12th-seeded Jackrabbits had Gentry stuck on the roster.

Veteran South Dakota State coach Scott Nagy, who has guided the program to its third NCAA bid in five seasons, admitted Gentry would have filled in as starting point guard had senior George Martin ever suffered an extensive injury.

Martin, though, has flourished, ranking second on the team with an average of 14.9 points a game and leading the Jackrabbits with 2.7 steals a game. The biggest figure where Gentry is concerned is Martin's 34.1 minutes a game, another team high.

After deliberating well into December, Nagy and Gentry ultimately decided the program's best long-term interests did not involve Gentry lifting his redshirt to serve in a limited reserve role as a freshman.

Naturally, that hasn't kept Gentry from spreading his familiar work ethic across the Brookings, S.D. campus. For now, he helps the Jackrabbits by internalizing the opposition's sets and running them in practice, all while challenging himself and banking extensive reps and knowledge for his own playing career.

"He's always working on something to better his game," Nagy said. "He loves the gym."

Gentry briefly played alongside another NCAA-bound East alumnus, Kendall Stephens, as a Saints sophomore in 2012-13. Gentry emerged that season while Stephens missed most of his senior campaign after suffering a torn right labrum in preseason practice.

Now a junior guard at Purdue, Stephens enters Thursday's first-round game against Arkansas-Little Rock averaging 6.1 points and 1.3 rebounds over 14.2 minutes a game.

In case you're wondering – and you're not if you're the ultimate Saints superfan – South Dakota State and Purdue are on opposite sides of the NCAA bracket and could only meet for the national championship April 4.

A more feasible scenario involves Tri-Cities fans trekking to Brookings a few times per season in 2016-17 and beyond. Geneva senior Loudon Vollbrecht, a 6-foot-8 center, committed to South Dakota State in November.

Gentry and Vollbrecht grew friendly through high school and AAU ball. Gentry also maintains ties with Saints coach Pat Woods and several former East teammates.

"It's certainly true that they keep a family atmosphere at East," Gentry said.

The best news for the East hoops community arguably is Friday's South Dakota State start time. No need to rush home from school for a 3:20 p.m. tip.

• Kevin Druley is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or kdruley@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinDruley.

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