Here's the prevailing logic on Towson State basketball: Despite the loss of Kurk Lee, the Tigers will continue to win games in the backcourt thanks to Devin Boyd and Lewis Waller, but they will have their same old deficiencies up front.
There is one fault, however, in that logic. It overlooks the very real prospect that Chuck Lightening could become a dominant player in the East Coast Conference. A 6-foot-5 junior forward, Lightening has waited his time with the books and the ball, and now he's ready to strike.
When Lee, three other senior starters and Boyd led Towson State to its first ECC championship and NCAA tournament a year ago, Lightening was the most active reserve.
He was up and down all winter, scoring 12 points against the likes of North Carolina, then two against Lafayette. Inconsistency was exactly what coach Terry Truax expected from someone whose last organized basketball had come during the 1986-87 ** season at Springbrook High in Montgomery County.
"He didn't play for two years, then he needed a year to get acclimated to me and our system," Truax said. "Even after that layoff, Chuck knew he was capable of being a starter. He has more athletic ability than any of the three guys we started up front last year, and it showed a lot of maturity on his part that he never complained about that."
Lightening, a 22-year-old who is majoring in Mass Communications, got a grasp on the big picture when he was finishing up his high school career.
As a 5-11 freshman at Springbrook, he was the last player on the junior varsity, and never saw himself getting anything out of the game. As a senior, however, Lightening had developed to the point where he averaged 19 points and eight rebounds on a team that lost to Crossland and Walt Williams in the state 4A semifinals.
Lightening's SAT scores were just as impressive as his basketball numbers, but deficient work in the core academic courses required by the NCAA as part of Proposition 48 meant he couldn't play in Division I in 1987-88.
"Coming out of Springbrook, I didn't know what I wanted to do," Lightening said. "It wasn't until my junior year there that I realized I wanted to go to college."
Rather than play at a level other than Division I, Lightening enrolled at Maryland's University College, then spent 1988-89 in the Continuing Studies program at Towson State. Truax told Lightening scholarship aid awaited him as soon as he became a full-time student.
Backing up since-departed seniors Kelly Williamson and Kennell Jones -- whom he called his best friends on last year's team -- Lightening averaged 8.5 points on 50.2 percent shooting and 3.5 rebounds. He also blocked 25 shots while playing just over 20 minutes a game, and was selected to the ECC All-Rookie team.
Lightening's forte is taking the ball to the basket, utilizing a quick first step and high vertical leap. Oklahoma will vouch for that.
In the first round of the NCAA tournament, Lightening awoke a Midwest Regional crowd at Texas and his teammates with a first-half dunk. He was called for charging, the basket was disallowed and Truax got a technical, but the Tigers also got the stimulus needed to throw a scare into the No. 1 Sooners, who were clinging to a four-point lead inside two minutes.
If Towson State is going to approach last year's success, Lightening has to do more of the same. Sophomores William Griffin and Larry Brown are much improved and the freshman class includes several quality players in the 6-5 to 6-8 range, but Lightening is the most accomplished player up front.
"I like the fact that people are expecting more of me, because that makes me work harder," Lightening said. "Last year was one big adjustment for me, and I had my head down sometimes. Now, I've got to be ready to play every night."
Towson State at a glance
* Coach: Terry Truax (90-115, seven years).
* 1989-90 record: 18-13.
* Conference: East Coast.
* Returnees: Devin Boyd, 6-2, Jr., G (11.7 ppg, 3.9 apg); Chuck Lightening, 6-5, Jr., F (8.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg); Lewis Waller, 5-10, Sr., G (7.1 ppg); William Griffin, 6-6, So., C; Larry Brown, 6-7, So., F; Craig Valentine, 6-2, So., G; Scott Heidler, 6-8, So., C.
* Newcomers: Tom Caldwell, 6-8, Fr., F; Matt Campbell, 6-6, Fr., F; Terrance Jacobs, 6-3, Jr., G (transfer from Allegany CC); John James, 6-7, Fr., F; Patrick Manning, 6-5, Fr., F; Mike Manns, 6-1, Jr., G (transfer from Sheridan (Wyo.) JC); Andrew Mason, 6-5, Fr., Myron Ray, 6-3, Jr., G (transfer from St. Bonaventure).
* Strengths: Backcourt depth led by Boyd and Waller, athleticism on front line and what may be Truax's best freshman class.
* Weaknesses: Must replace two-time ECC Player of the Year Kurk Lee and three other starters. Big men must prove themselves.