It was in December, when Coppin State got off to a 1-4 start, that coach Fang Mitchell began to question the makeup of his team.
"What we lack now is a vocal leader, and we'll need somebody to do that before the year is out," Mitchell said then. "Somebody will come along."
Mitchell's hope was wishful thinking after the Eagles, who won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season title for the second season in a row, were bounced in the semifinals of the conference tournament and in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. Now, with the loss of three starters, Mitchell is looking at an extensive rebuilding job.
"We're out there recruiting and we're working hard, but we haven't signed anyone yet," Mitchell said. "We need players who exhibit my attitude."
Mitchell's attitude is one of emotion, something lacking in the team that finished with a 19-11 record. But, although it won the conference with a 14-2 record, the team was different, it was clear.
"We didn't have any emotion or anyone being vocal other than it coming out of my mouth," Mitchell said. "You just don't realize how important that can be.
"I've never coached a team like that," he added. "Most teams I've had in the past were a reflection on me. And I'm not non-emotional."
That lack of leadership hurt the Eagles in a 57-47 loss to Southwest Missouri State in the first round of the NIT. Leading by three with nine minutes left, Coppin scored just 10 points the rest of the game.
"At that juncture, one of their players said that he didn't want it to be his last game and he picked the team up. That's leadership," Mitchell said. "Phil Booth [forward on the 1989-90 team] was a guy who stepped up for us last year. James Mazyck was capable of doing that this year, but he's only a freshman."
Mitchell said the two-week layoff between the MEAC tournament and the NIT may have hurt his team, but that he was not surprised by the outcome.
"We led most of the game, and the collapse at the end was something I've seen already this year," Mitchell said. "Down the stretch, you have to want to win."
And so, Mitchell has begun recruiting for his sixth season at Coppin. The loss of two-time MEAC Player of the Year Larry Stewart, two-time MEAC first-team pick Reggie Isaac and center Larry McCollum will probably take the Eagles out of the upper reaches of the MEAC, but Mitchell is not fazed.
"No one has committed, and I'm not surprised. But we normally find a way to get some players, and we'll just have to keep on looking," Mitchell said. "We lose an awful lot, so if young people want to play, Coppin is the place.
"I've been successful before and I'll continue to be," he added. "It might mean starting a lot of freshmen and sophomores, but we'll still find a way."