Michael Holmes knows that some of the 11 fresh faces at Morgan State can eventually prosper in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The rookies also think they're good enough, but sometimes they try too hard to impress Holmes.
"We've got some individual talent," said Holmes, himself in only his second year with the Bears. "Sometimes at practice, players are trying to show their skills to me, and it's every man for himself. They're putting it up like it's a CBA [Continental Basketball Association] game, but they end up shooting and looking like a junior high team."
The Bears are one of the nation's least experienced teams. Senior guard Ural Hogans averaged 10.0 points last year and has had flashes of strong play since 1987, but Morgan State doesn't have a single player who has consistently proved himself on the Division I level.
The roster includes seven freshmen -- including a point guard three years out of high school -- and three transfers.
Making the mix more tenuous is the fact that the Bears won't get one of their top recruits until Dec. 21. Terry Butler, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound forward out of Philadelphia, was the California Junior College Player of the Year before entering New Mexico State. He never played there and won't be eligible until the end of the first semester.
"We'll be a stronger team when Butler is eligible," Holmes said. "He's a good rebounder and a strong inside player, possibly our best close to the basket. I'm not worried about the layoff affecting him."
Others are shaking off cobwebs. Charles Feagin, a 6-8 forward who made some Ohio all-state teams in 1989-90, sat out last season at Mansfield High. Terry Wright, a 6-4 point guard, was 5-10 when he played his high school ball in Philadelphia. The 22-year-old is coming off several years in the Air Force.
The inside game could be a plus, with Butler and Feagin joining 6-8 Michael Brewer and 6-7 Matthew Burrell, who were teammates at Hagerstown Junior College. The freshmen up front are Jarrad Smith, a 6-11, 300-pound package of potential, and Rojak West, who played at Thomas Johnson High in Frederick.
Besides Wright, the new backcourt prospects are freshmen Robert Holmes and Obadiah Johnson, who played together at Largo High. Two others who won't be eligible until Dec. 21 are Randallstown High's Brandon Parker and Phillip Downs, who sat out last season because of Proposition 48.
They'll vie for time with Hogans, a fifth-year senior, and junior Jason Rhodes, the only other returnee who played in all 29 games last year. Holmes' first team began with 12 straight road games and an 0-14 record, but Morgan State made visible strides from mid-January on, winning seven of its last 15 to finish 7-22 overall.
Three senior starters completed their eligibility, but two productive junior forwards also left. Steve Haynes transferred to a college in Massachusetts, and Glenn Smith also did not return to the university.
Holmes didn't appear to be disturbed by those developments. Last year's squad was recruited by Nat Frazier, and Holmes felt that the 1990-91 season did little to turn around a program that has had one winning season since 1979.
"From the day I walked in here, I knew that last season was going to be a wasted year," Holmes said. "I knew we were going to have to start all over this year, and the bright side is that we're going to have most of these guys for four seasons. I shouldn't have to teach the same things next year."
The first test is Friday night in Los Angeles, where the Bears open at Loyola Marymount.