After leading Towson State to its second straight NCAA basketball tournament, coach Terry Truax spent the off-season auditioning for one basketball job after another. But, with basketball season beginning today, Truax seems to be happy entering his ninth season at Towson.
He didn't get coaching jobs at South Carolina and Old Dominion, and he pulled out of the running for assistant commissioner of the Southwest Conference. But Truax is happy because he only lost one player from a team that played Ohio State tough in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
"The program is going in the right direction," he said. "It's critical that we continue to perpetuate that."
But although Towson has one of the better starting five in the state, the team probably has the least chance of the eight state Division I schools eligible for the NCAA tournament of making it. Because of its ever-changing membership, the East Coast Conference tournament lost its automatic bid. To make it this year, Towson would have to do it as an at-large team.
"Now the postseason tournament won't have the significance it has had in previous seasons," Truax said. "That gives every game now more significance, non-conference games in particular."
Coppin State was an NCAA tournament team two years ago, but coach Fang Mitchell is rebuilding. Larry Stewart and Reggie Isaac, the two players who helped the Eagles to two straight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season titles, are gone, which will mean problems in an improving conference.
Larry Yarbray and James Mazyck are the only starters returning.
"I really don't know what to expect," Mitchell said. "We have a lot of inexperience, with seven kids who've never played college basketball. I don't know what I have -- I have to look at it first."
It's been five seasons since Loyola has had a winning season, but third-year coach Tom Schneider may have his team on the verge of turning things around. Tracy Bergan and All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference pick Kevin Green return to form what may be the top backcourt in the league.
But what really has Schneider excited is sophomore Mike Reese, a 6-foot-8 power forward who transferred from Boston College, where he was a starter.
"Mike Reese is one of the most talented players we have recruited," Schneider said. "He will be one of our team leaders."
Navy will be looking for a leader at point guard to run the uptempo offense that gave opponents fits. Erik Harris has graduated, creating a big void.
Four key players return for Navy, which plays its first season in the Patriot League. Forwards Sam Cook and John Haase and guard Michael Burd can hit from outside. And center Nick Marusich was the team's most improved player. But if no point guard steps forward, last season's 8-21 record may not be improved upon.
At Morgan State, coach Michael Holmes had his team practicing at 12:01 a.m. today at a "Midnight Pajama Party." It gave him his first look at his young team, which has eight new players.
"We're a lot more talented than we were last year, but it'll take a while for us to get our system in place," Holmes said. "It's like starting over again."
The University of Maryland also got off to a midnight start, though without guard Kevin McLinton, who underwent ankle surgery Friday to remove a bone chip and will be sidelined for approximately two weeks.
The University of Maryland Baltimore County started the season with a 1-15 record, which included a 14-game losing streak. But by season's end, the Retrievers had a five-game winning streak, until a two-point loss to Towson in the ECC semifinals.
Unfortunately for UMBC, the players who were instrumental in that late-season surge -- Jim Frantz and Derrick Reid -- are gone. And for coach Earl Hawkins, that will probably make for another long season.
At Mount St. Mary's, the players are approaching the season in anticipation of playing for the Northeast Conference title for the first time. The Mountaineers (8-19) joined Division I four years ago and are eligible for the first time for the conference championship and its automatic NCAA bid.
The University of Maryland Eastern Shore has one holdover starter from a team that finished 5-23 last season. UMES, last last season in the MEAC, opens the season at Iowa and will play seven of its first nine games on the road.