Is it possible to put together a winning basketball team with six veterans, the fruits of two months recruiting and a player who missed last season because of Proposition 48?
Hallie Gregory, the athletic director at Maryland-Eastern Shore, didn't think so, but Bob Hopkins might prove him wrong.
Gregory hired Hopkins in July, despite the fact the new coach came with penalties assessed by the NCAA for recruiting violations during the 1988-89 season, Hopkins' last as head coach at Grambling. Among other restrictions, the NCAA said Hopkins couldn't recruit off campus for a year, couldn't recruit in Louisiana until 1994, and couldn't coach in the 1991 NCAA tournament, if UMES were to earn a berth.
That last penalty meant little to Gregory. UMES has not had a winning season since the mid-1970s. In 1988-89, the Hawks won one game. Last year, they improved to 10-17, but still shared last place in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with Morgan State.
In August, less than two months after hiring Hopkins, Gregory said "we have a snowball's chance in July of winning the MEAC tournament." But he might change that assessment after watching UMES in its opener tomorrow against St. Francis, N.Y.
"The MEAC is totally foreign to me," Hopkins said, "but I certainly feel we can be one of the top three, four teams in the league. We can move up that far this year."
UMES was supposed to return nine players from last season, which ended with coach Steve Williams' contract not being renewed. But the team's most explosive guard flunked out of school, and Hopkins cut two other seniors. Swingman Robert Spear, point guard Sean Salisbury and sophomore Leland Kent are solid enough returnees, but the emphasis at Princess Anne is on the new faces.
The resumes of Hopkins and assistant coach Bobby Wilkerson include NCAA records at Grambling for the former and a title at Indiana for the latter. Hopkins played and coached in the NBA, and Wilkerson spent eight years in the pros. The talent they have lined up could surprise some people.
The power forward is Jamaine Colbert, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound freshman from Oxon Hill. One of the centers he'll be working with is Vinnie Huger, a 6-8 junior college transfer. He went to high school in Washington state, as did Hopkins' son Bobby, a transfer from Xavier University of Louisiana. Bobby Hopkins starred at Mercer Island High, the same school that sent Quin Snyder to Duke.
Spear's backup at shooting guard is Ray Moreland, a freshman from Detroit. Wilkerson was an assistant at Colorado last year, and Lonnell Gordon, one of the best guard prospects in Denver, also came east. Simon Edwards, who prepped at Towson Catholic, came back to Maryland after two years at Dawson (Mont.) Community College.
Hopkins also received a housewarming gift in the person of Darrick Purnell, a 6-5 sophomore with many skills. He showed flashes of brilliance when he was at Carver High, and sat out last year under Proposition 48 restrictions.
"He is the main man," Hopkins said. "Darrick is our best all-around player. I expect him to be our leading rebounder, and he handles the ball superbly. He can compete with anyone. He's one reason why we'll have an entertaining team.
"When you've been down as long as this program has, people expect you to stay there, but I'm impressed with the people we've got," Hopkins said.
UMES AT A GLANCE * Nickname: Hawks.
* Coach: Bob Hopkins (first year).
* 1989-90 record: 10-17.
* Returnees: Robert Spear, 6-5, Sr., G-F (14 ppg); Sean Salisbury, 5-10, Sr., G (10 ppg); Jose Sandoval, 6-6, Sr., F (7 ppg, 6 rpg); Michael Dabbs, 6-5, Jr., F; Leland Kent, 6-6, So., C-F; Ken Thoms, 6-3, So., G.
* Newcomers: Darrick Purnell, 6-5, So., F (sat out last year as Prop. 48); Bobby Hopkins, 6-2, So., G (transfer from Xavier, La.); Vinnie Huger, 6-8, Jr., C (transfer from Vancouver (Wash.) JC); Simon Edwards, 6-1, Jr., G (transfer from Dawson (Mont.) CC); Jamaine Colbert, 6-5, Fr., F-C; Lonnell Gordon, 5-10, Fr., G; Shawn Johnson, 6-2, Fr., G; Ray Moreland, 6-3, Fr., G; Dondre Phoenix, 6-1, Fr., G.
* Strengths: Hopkins' coaching experience and infusion of talent. There are enough players to incorporate the uptempo style he prefers.
* Weaknesses: Recent losing tradition. Hawks are lacking in size and strength inside.
UMES SCHEDULE Tomorrow -- St. Francis (N.Y.), 7:30
Nov. 26 -- at Morehead State, 7:30
Nov. 29 -- Brooklyn, 7:30
Dec. 1 -- at James Madison, 2
Dec. 3 -- at New Mexico, 7:30
Dec. 6 -- at Texas-El Paso, 7:30
Dec. 8 -- Morehead State, 7:30
Dec. 11 -- at St. Francis (N.Y.), 7:30
Dec. 13 -- Charleston, 7:30
Jan. 5 -- at Florida A&M, 7
Jan. 7 -- at Bethune-Cookman, 7:30
Jan. 12 -- at Morgan State, 7:30
Jan. 14 -- at Coppin State, 7:30
Jan. 19 -- S.C. State, 4
Jan. 21 -- N.C. A&T, 8
Jan. 24 -- Howard, 8
Jan. 26 -- Morgan State, 4
Jan. 29 -- Brooklyn, 8
Feb. 2 -- at S.C. State, 7:30
Feb. 4 -- at N.C. A&T, 7:30
Feb. 7 -- at Boston College, 7:30
Feb. 9 -- at Delaware State, 7:30
Feb. 13 -- at Howard, 8
Feb. 16 -- Florida A&M, 2
Feb. 18 -- Bethune-Cookman, 8
Feb. 21 -- Delaware State, 8
Feb. 23 -- Coppin State, 4
Feb. 28-March 2 -- MEAC tourney in Norfolk, TBA