Kent’s career comes full circle with transfer to DSU

Zach Kent, a Magnolia native, spent the last two and a half seasons in the Tennessee men’s basketball program. Tennessee sports information photos

DOVER — Zach Kent was always one of the tallest kids in his class.

But it wasn’t until middle school that the youngster’s height really took off.

In the summer after sixth grade, the Caesar Rodney High School District student stood 6-foot. By eighth grade, he was 6-6.

Standing out like that isn’t always the easiest thing for a kid, though.

“It’s not all great, it’s not all roses,” Kent said with a laugh. “I’m sure I got picked on plenty growing up.

“It’s a completely different way of life,” he continued. “People have different things that affect the way they live. Being tall is one of those things that kind of changes everything.”

Being tall clearly helped open a lot of doors for Kent, who now stands 6-foot-10, 240 pounds at the age of 22.

It played a hand in him becoming the first player from the state of Delaware to earn a men’s basketball scholarship to Tennessee.

But, in the basketball world, being a certain size also helped pigeon-hole Kent into playing a certain role on the court. And the Magnolia native always thought he was capable of more than that.

That’s why Kent transferred from Tennessee to Delaware State last winter. Hornet coach Eric Skeeters is more than happy to let Kent show what he can do when he’s given some more freedom.

“Talent-wise, the kid’s phenomenal,” said Skeeters. “I think the future’s very bright for him and just his impact — just stepping on the floor, the talent that he brings. … you’re looking at a kid that his three college visits were all high major schools.

“We’re looking for a tremendous impact. He’s been great to be around — his personality, his skill set.”

Skeeters goes as far as to say he’s sure that he believes Kent can play professionally somewhere when he’s done at DSU.

Kent has shown the ability to shoot the ball well from the outside for a big man.

“He possesses everything that’s needed to play basketball for as long as he wants,” said Skeeters.

The irony is that Kent has done a lot of traveling to end up back in the city where he was born.

In high school, he spent two seasons at both CR and St. Andrews before capping it off with a year at Blair Academy in New Jersey. Kent, who also considered going to Northwestern, was at Tennessee for two-plus seasons before leaving last November.

Kent’s best season came as a junior at St. Andrews, when he averaged 17 points and nine rebounds per game. He shot 58 percent from the field, including 40 percent from three-point range, and made third-team All-State that year.

“Zach obviously adds some needed size and length to our frontcourt, but he’ll also elevate our overall skill level with his ability to pass and shoot the ball, as well as his high basketball IQ,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said when Kent signed with the Vols. “He’s got a solid inside game and is developing an ability to score with his back to the basket.”

But things never panned out for Kent at Tennessee.

He redshirted his first season before sitting out his second with a knee injury. Last fall, he played a total of 10 minutes in two games, hitting one three-pointer and pulling down a pair of rebounds.

“He’s talented enough,” Barnes told the Knoxville News. “He’s good enough. He can shoot the ball. He’s competitive. He’s very hard on himself, to a fault. He’s going to have to work with that.”

On the other hand, Tennessee was ranked No. 1 in the country for just the second time in program history while Kent was there. He was also playing with two future NBA draft picks in Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.

But Kent said he didn’t feel over-matched with the Vols once he got up to speed.

“I could compete at that level,” said Kent. “I still played pickup with those guys. I was still scoring and playing defense. It was always competitive. In no way was I getting walked over.

“Once I was up to the curve, I was just another player.”

Still, Kent never felt like what Tennessee wanted from him fit the strengths of his game. For one reason or another, he never found his place on the court.

When he’s gotten the chance, Kent has shown the ability to shoot the ball well from the outside and spread the floor.

“When I step out on the court, I earn people’s respect,” he said. “It’s not like a game-killing thing. But it’s definitely annoying when I’m not being used how I’m supposed to be used as a basketball player.”

“He has a high basketball IQ,” said Skeeters. “He picked up right away on what we were doing. He’s a very smart kid but he’s also a very smart player. You’re playing against pros in the conference he came from, the SEC. His attention to detail is going to be tremendous.

“His range is out to the NBA three-point line. And he’s sneaky athletic. Zach has that athleticism. He doesn’t use it a whole lot but then he’ll surprise you. Then he’s above the rim and putting it down on somebody. He’s multi-dimensional. He can score inside and out. … He didn’t go to Tennessee by accident.”

Before college, Kent played for an AAU team coached by Duane Coverdale, who knew Skeeters. That’s how he ended up at Delaware State after leaving the Vols.

The big man was just getting to know his new teammates at DSU when the coronavirus lockdown hit. So it’ll take some time for him to develop some chemistry before he becomes eligible after the fall semester.

Kent should still have two full seasons left after next year.

“I feel like it’s been so long since I played valuable minutes,” he said. “I’m a vet but I’m not at the same time. I’m still trying to play.”

“His teammates are anxious to play with him, that’s for sure,” said Skeeters.

Playing so close to home will be a relatively new experience for Kent. He has family and friends all around the country — “from Alaska to Tennessee,” as well as California.

At St. Andrews, Kent played only one game in Kent or Sussex County.

“It could be nice.” he said. “I’m still not sure what it’s all going to feel like yet. I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like.”