NORFOLK, Va. -- The University of Maryland-Eastern Shore must wait another year for the rebirth of its basketball program.
The Hawks, who last had a winner in the 1970s, finished another desultory campaign last night, dropping an 81-71 decision to Bethune-Cookman in a preliminary game of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament. Fewer than 300 watched the game at the Norfolk Scope.
UMES finished with a 5-23 record, and first-year coach Bob Hopkins expected better from a group that won 10 games last season. Hopkins himself is serving an NCAA probation growing out of violations during his tenure at Grambling, and assistant coach Bobby Wilkerson has been responsible for the recruiting that they hope will turn things around in Princess Anne.
In addition to being his eyes, Wilkerson speaks for Hopkins, who is also barred from off-campus speaking engagements. The UMES administration, steering clear of any possible NCAA violations, includes post-game interviews in that interpretation.
"I'm very disappointed in a lot of things," Wilkerson said. "We have some good individual talent, but that doesn't make a team. These kids have never won."
The coaches have. Hopkins played and coached in the NBA, and had great success at Grambling before his problems there. Wilkerson has seen both ends of the Division I spectrum. He played for Indiana's unbeaten team in 1976, but is now the only assistant coach in a program ranked as the nation's fifth-worst.
"I'm the only assistant, and everyone else has three or four," Wilkerson said. "Half of my time has been spent recruiting. Bob [Hopkins] won't even be able to go off campus to sign recruits, and I'm going to have to do that, too."
Help is needed for a team that made 40.1 percent of its field goals and allowed opponents to shoot 50.9. On a typical night, the Hawks were outscored by more than 13 points.
Darrick Purnell, a sophomore swingman from Carver, ended up as the top scorer, even though he struggled through the second half of the season. Freshman guards Dondre Phoenix and Shawn Johnson made the MEAC All-Rookie team. The seniors kept the Hawks in it last night: Jose Sandoval, Robert Spear and Sean Salisbury scored 15, 14 and 14, respectively.
Athletic director Hallie Gregory is trying to turn around an entire athletic program, not just the men's basketball team, and he remains confident that Hopkins is the right man for the Hawks.
"This season was certainly not what I had hoped for," Gregory said. "I had hoped we'd be further along than we are now, but there were so many factors. They didn't get to do any recruiting for this team at all. Even I went out and got one of the freshmen [Johnson]."