NCAA Cinderellas Coppin, Towson join state teams back at work

November 23, 1990|By Jerry Bembry

In Friday's editions, it was reported incorrectly that the University of Maryland Baltimore County men's basketball team is ineligible for the East Coast Conference tournament this season. In fact, UMBC can play in the tournament.

) The Sun regrets the error

There are no National Collegiate Athletic Association banners hanging from the rafters. There are no extravagant ceremonies planned for the home openers. And players still walk around unnoticed on some parts of campus.

Eight months ago, they made history by becoming the first Baltimore-area teams to play in the NCAA men's Division I basketball tournament. But today, little has changed on the campuses of Coppin State and Towson State.


"I've had maybe a few more speaking engagements and some extra requests to autograph team pictures," said Towson coach Terry Truax. "But that's about it. Things don't change drastically for a school of this magnitude."

Who will be this season's Coppin or Towson? Answers to that question will begin to unfold this weekend, when eight of the state Division I teams begin play (Maryland opens on Monday).

And of the eight teams, six -- Coppin, Towson, Loyola, Morgan State, Navy and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore -- can dream of winning a conference tournament and an automatic place in March Madness (Mount St. Mary's and the University of Maryland Baltimore County are ineligible to play in conference tournaments).

Which team is the state's best bet to gain an NCAA berth? Probably Coppin, which returns four starters from a team that finished 26-7 in only its fourth season in Division I. Last season, coach Fang Mitchell's Eagles beat Maryland, Creighton and Toledo on the road. But having gained respect, they have lost the element of surprise.

"It'll be difficult, not only because we won't be able to sneak up on people but because we haven't had any continuity with our players," said Mitchell, whose team opens at Tulsa tomorrow. "Last year at the beginning, we had a flow going. This year has been a problem."

This problem stems from injuries to point guard Larry Yarbray (ankle) and center Larry McCollum (hand surgery) that may force them to sit out the first part of the season. That leaves Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year Larry Stewart and All-MEAC guard Reggie Isaac to carry the load against a non-conference schedule that includes road games at Oklahoma, New Mexico State and Texas-El Paso (Creighton was supposed to play the Eagles in Baltimore, but backed out -- sending a check instead).

"Both [Isaac and Stewart] are prospects," said Marty Blake, the National Basketball Association's director of scouting. "Isaac is a very good shooter and Stewart is showing improvement from the outside. They'll both get a good look [from the NBA]."

With former Towson guard Kurk Lee now with the New Jersey Nets, the Tigers are left trying to replace nearly a third of their offense. Guard Devin Boyd is the lone holdover starter from a team that gave top-ranked Oklahoma a scare before losing, 77-68, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

"We lost four senior starters last year, and you don't have to be a mathematician to figure out what that meant to the team," Truax said. "But, honestly, I'm excited about this year's team. Collectively, we have the most talent we've ever had."

Besides Boyd, only guard Lewis Waller and forward Chuck Lightening offer any experience. Myron Ray, a transfer from St. Bonaventure, will be Towson's main outside scoring threat. And guard Terrance Jacobs, a transfer from Allegany Community College, will be counted on as a defensive stopper.

But if Towson is to challenge for the East Coast Conference title, a proven scorer will have to step forward by January.

"Right now we don't have a pre-determined, designated go-to guy," Truax said. "It reached a point last year where everybody in America knew who was going to get the ball. If this team maintains its work ethic and attitude, we'll be good come January. What we did last year was significant. I'm excited -- I've never coached a Towson State team that talked about repeating."

Also in search of offense will be UMBC (12-16 last season), which, entering its first season in the ECC, will try to replace Larry Simmons (20.4 ppg).

"I think the void will be filled by a collective effort," said UMBC coach Earl Hawkins. "We can't look for any one person to replace him. Hopefully, the system will take care of itself."

Guard Bobby Mills and forward Derrick Reid are the returning starters, and 6-foot-10 Jim Frantz is showing no ill effects from a broken arm suffered while throwing a snowball, an injury that forced him to miss the last 20 games. The frontcourt will have depth with Brian Watkins, Emmanuel Fasaye and newcomer Mark Bogosh (7-0, 230), but only Derell Thompson (8.3 ppg) and Mills are proven backcourt players.

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