Most 18-year-olds are works in progress. When you're 7 feet tall and a basketball player with the normal rough edges, however, people take things a step further and label you a project.
Mike Wagner and Mark Bogosh are at opposite ends of that tunnel. Wagner is a 6-11 senior at Loyola and loving life after two disheartening seasons. Bogosh is a 7-foot freshman at UMBC, and the Retrievers remind themselves he is in his fourth year of organized basketball. He is going to be brought along very slowly.
Their different roles will be evident tonight at the Towson Center, site of the third Beltway Classic. When Loyola meets Mount St. Mary's in the 6:30 p.m. semifinal, the Greyhounds will be looking to get 25 to 30 minutes of defense and rebounding from Wagner. Bogosh, on the other hand, might play four or five minutes -- if the situation warrants -- when UMBC faces Towson State at 8:30 p.m.
Their expectations coming out of high school varied, but Wagner and Bogosh have much in common, stemming from the fact that the media guides at Loyola and UMBC mention that each is the tallest player ever in their respective programs.
"It's a burden a little bit, sure," Bogosh said. "A good player expects the game to come naturally to me. They see someone taller, and they expect him to be better."
Bogosh never put on a basketball uniform until his sophomore year at Hereford High.
Wagner was groomed for the game, as he was the biggest thing -- literally if not figuratively -- to come out of Beaver Falls High since Joe Namath. He was an accomplished player on some Western Pennsylvania powers, never missed a day of high school, and remains deadly serious about academics and basketball.
"One year we lost in the state semifinals," Wagner said. "I never made it to Hershey [site of the Pennsylvania championships], and I'll never take my family there."
Wagner started every game as a freshman at Loyola, when the young Greyhounds went 8-22.
"I averaged six points [6.1] and four rebounds [4.6]," Wagner said. "I thought I would build on that, be a three-year starter coming into this year. That wasn't the case. I finally stopped trying to figure things out this summer."
After averaging more than 20 minutes a game as a freshman, Wagner played a total of 124 minutes as a sophomore and 134 last year. As a sophomore, he was sat down by Mark Amatucci. Last year, Tom Schneider took over a team that sputtered to a 4-24 mark, and Wagner was the 13th man on a 14-man team.
"I took things personally last year," Wagner said. "If I can't play for one coach, maybe it's the fault of both of us. If I can't play for two coaches, then I begin to question if it's just my fault.
"That's why I'm taking this year so seriously. If I didn't play [more] this year, I wouldn't be happy with myself for the rest of my life."
When Loyola played at Robert Morris north of Pittsburgh a few years ago, the Wagner family had the Greyhound team over for a meal. He comes from a close clan, but he missed his only sister's wedding in August to be part of Loyola's two-week preseason tour of Scandinavia.
A history major with a minor in secondary education, Wagner is doing his student teaching at Poly. The 225-pounder was looking to improve his condition this fall, and an ancillary benefit is the two miles he walks each way. He is an introspective sort who never missed a day of high school, and his work habits haven't lessened since.
"I have never been around anyone who wants to do as well in his senior year as Mike does," Schneider said. "Desperate is not too strong a word to describe the way he came into this season. It came from within. From the time I met him, the big thing for him was to gain confidence. He wasn't functioning at the level we needed. He wasn't there.
"Now he is, and we're a better team because of that."
Wagner had 11 rebounds and four blocked shots in a season-opening defeat of George Washington. Tuesday in Philadelphia, he helped Loyola stay close to La Salle by grabbing nine rebounds in a 29-minute stint.
UMBC beat Howard Monday night, but Bogosh didn't play. In the season-opener at Clemson last Saturday, coach Earl Hawkins inserted Bogosh for six minutes. He blocked a shot by Dale Davis, maybe the best big man in the ACC, and celebrated with a little woofing, even though he was called for a foul on the play.
"I stared him down," Bogosh said. "After the game, when we shook hands, I told him I was sorry, but he told me not to worry about it. I let the excitement get to me. There were 5,000 people at that game. The most I had ever played before in high school was maybe 300 people for a game against Towson."
Bogosh turned 18 in August. He has grown three inches since the summer of 1989. He was 6-2 as an eighth-grader, when his family moved from Florida to Hunt Valley. He enjoyed youth soccer and baseball, and was on the golf team at Hereford, where he was finally coaxed out for basketball as a sophomore.
"I'm not sure why I waited so long to try basketball," Bogosh said. "Right now, the game can be very frustrating, because I put pressure on myself. The coaches are more patient than I am. They never get angry with me, they just keep teaching."
In his junior year at Hereford, Bogosh was a varsity substitute. He averaged 11 points and six rebounds as a senior, when Hawkins saw enormous potential.
"Mark keeps the ball up after he gets a rebound, and he's got a good shooting touch," Hawkins said. "He does need work though. The big thing is that he needs to mature mentally and physically. He's grown so much in the last couple of years, it's hard for his skills and agility to keep pace. Big kids like that develop later.
"We are not calling him a project."