Even though he had to replace four senior starters, coac Terry Truax admits that it was easier coaching Towson State basketball this year than last.
Lew Waller deserves some credit for that.
Out-of-control egos apparently haven't been much of a distraction this winter for the Tigers, the two-time East Coast Conference champions who draw Ohio State, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional, Friday (7:35 p.m., Ch. 11, WBAL-AM 1090) at the Dayton Arena. Had Waller so desired, he could have caused some headaches for Truax.
A 5-foot-10 guard from Wilmington, Del., Waller is the Tigers' lone senior. As a freshman, he played behind Marty Johnson and Tommy Jones. The last two years he was the backup to a pair of Baltimore's favorite sons, Kurk Lee and Devin Boyd.
This year, the consensus had Waller moving into the starting lineup alongside Boyd. That's how Towson State began the season, but in December Truax decided the Tigers' best combination was Boyd and transfer Terrance Jacobs starting in the backcourt, with Waller returning to his customary sixth-man role.
Waller did so without as much as a peep.
"If I had come out and made a scene, that was not going to help the team," Waller said. "Crying or moaning wouldn't have made a difference. Look, I'm playing 20 minutes a game and my numbers are up a little. Besides, I think I play better coming off the bench anyway."
In his four years at Towson State, Waller has gotten the reputation of being a company man. He's the only member of this year's team who has experienced a losing record with the Tigers, playing on the 1987-88 team that went 14-16. Since then he has been a quiet contributor on clubs that went 19-10, 18-13 and 19-10.
He was a bit player as a freshman, and his sophomore season began poorly as he missed the first seven games because of an error in academic scheduling. That season ended with an upset loss to Lafayette in the ECC semifinals, despite Waller's 17 points.
As a junior, Waller averaged 7.1 points on 50.3 percent shooting from the field and 83.3 at the free-throw line. When Towson State threw a scare into top-ranked Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament, Waller stepped forward with nine points and two steals in 13 minutes.
Waller's shooting has suffered this season, but he's averaging 7.2 points, and he's the only Towson State player with more steals than assists. He hasn't dunked off a lob pass, as he did four of five times as a freshman, but Waller continues to play big.
"He's had a lot to do with the way this season progressed," Truax said. "In his four years here, we went to the ECC title game three times. The way he sees the floor, it's like having a coach out there. A lot of seniors couldn't hack the situation we handed him, but Lew's a classy person."
Leading the Sanford School, Waller was the Delaware Independent School Conference Player of the Year in 1986-87. He had a 39-inch vertical leap then, and with a 285-pound bench press, he knows his way around the weight room.
Waller's most impressive statistic, however, was an SAT score close to 1,200 coming out of high school. A marketing major, he has a cumulative grade-point average above 2.8.