The year after Unknowns no longer, Coppin, Towson look to follow up NCAA shot

October 15, 1990|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Evening Sun Staff

Fang Mitchell hasn't had much rest since leading his Coppin State Eagles to the NCAA basketball tournament last March. He was hospitalized in August for treatment of five ulcers. On Labor Day, he married Yvonne Washington. Later in September, he underwent knee surgery.

"I'm walking with a cane," Mitchell said. "I've been sick, I got married. I'm not sure if the two had anything to do with each other."

He is sure of one thing: Basketball is back. Practices officially began today for 18 state college teams, the exception being Maryland. The Terps have a self-imposed five-day delay because coach Gary Williams watched his team work out before the Oct. 15 starting date last year.

While Maryland continued to be engulfed by controversy last year, Coppin State and Towson State became the first Baltimore teams to qualify for the NCAA's 64-team March Madness. It brought much-needed funds to their athletic department coffers, and notoriety to the schools themselves.

"Attendance at our summer camp was about 100 kids in 1989," Towson State coach Terry Truax said. "It was over 200 this year. The first year we had it, in 1983, there were 27 kids."

In the Inside Sports college basketball preview, Truax is listed as one of the five best interviews in the game. He knows that wouldn't have happened had Towson State not gone to a regional in Austin, Texas.

Mitchell received a performance bonus from Coppin State. Truax received a small, scheduled pay raise, but his base salary remains below $50,000 as Towson State wrestles with a budget deficit that threatens its athletic future.

"Of the 64 teams that went to the NCAAs last season, the coaches from the two Baltimore schools were probably at the bottom of the pay scale," Truax said. "People are under the impression that Division I basketball coaches make $100,000 and have a shoe contract, but there are more Towson States than Georgetowns out there."

But at least people heard about the Towson States and Coppin States. It helped when Mitchell and Truax went looking for reinforcements.

The biggest long-range concern for Mitchell is having a good crop of recruits in 1991. Seniors Larry Stewart, Reggie Isaac and Larry McCollum and junior Larry Yarbray have been regulars since November 1988, and that core has the Eagles favored to repeat as Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions. McCollum, however, will be out at least six weeks with a hand injury.

Mitchell said the events of March, when the Eagles lost to Syracuse in the first round, will make it easier to replace them.

"Going to the NCAAs always helps your recruiting posture," said Mitchell, who built the Coppin State program using players from Philadelphia and the surrounding area. "We're trying to branch out geographically, and we had an easier time getting to recruits the last month, when you were able to visit them. I think we're in the running for some pretty good kids."

Truax experienced immediate benefits after Towson State gave Oklahoma a scare in the first round of the NCAAs. His roster includes junior college transfer Terrance Jacobs and freshman big men Tom Caldwell, John James and Andrew Mason. All signed letters of intent last April, following the best season in Tigers' history.

Towson State lost four senior starters, including two-time East Coast Conference Player of the Year Kurk Lee. This season it has only one senior, Lewis Waller, so the upcoming recruiting campaign is not crucial.

"Regrettably, we only have one scholarship to give next year," Truax said. "As recently as three, four years ago, we wouldn't have been in the running for the caliber of kid we could get now. At least three of the top prospects in Baltimore have expressed interest in us."

Truax isn't allowed to name names, but Walbrook's Steve Thomas, Dunbar's Terrance Alexander and Devin Gray of St. Francis-Charles Hall have Towson State on their list.

NCAA exposure can create other benefits.

Before beating Maryland last December, Coppin State scored an upset that was nearly as big, beating Creighton on the road. The Omaha, Neb., school was supposed to be Coppin State's home opener Nov. 27.

"On Sept. 17, we received a letter saying they weren't coming," ** Mitchell said. "It contained a check to cover our lost expenses, but I had to scramble to get another game. We were scheduled to play at Oklahoma next year, and Billy Tubbs gave us a game this Dec. 10. They knew who we were."

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