Talented Towson plays full-court press against adversity

JOHN EISENBERG

December 05, 1991|By JOHN EISENBERG

Chuck Lightening put it this way: "There's a lot of stuff going on." This was after his jump shot gave Towson State a win over Lehigh the other night, and everyone was talking about the collision of pros and cons that the Tigers have become.

Talking about their best player, Devin Boyd, injuring his elbow and maybe missing the season. Talking about losing their shot at the NCAA tournament. Talking about an impossible schedule with 10 straight road games.

But also talking about the longer view, how far the team has come, winning close to 20 games a year now, attracting layers of talent now, developing this improbable pipeline from the Baltimore city schools.

Lots of stuff going on. And how does it all shake out? Sorry, there is just no obvious answer right now. Just this collision of pros and cons.

"The big thing to understand," said Lightening, a senior from Silver Spring, "is Towson is on the map now. I used to come here for games when I was in high school. There was no electricity. The team didn't win that much. Now we're an NCAA team and lots of people come. It's a different thing."

Indeed. It's hard to remember now that it took the Tigers nine years to put up a winning Division I season. They're beyond that now. They've played in the past two NCAA tournaments and established themselves as a real alternative for the city's best high school players.

They got the city's best guard last year, Dunbar's Terrance Alexander. This year they've signed Quintin Moody, a point guard from Cardinal Gibbons, and it appears they'll get Stevie Thomas, a forward spending a year at prep school after graduating from Walbrook. They are in the running for Southern's Kwame Evans, a top prospect.

"It's to the point where any city kid is going to give Towson a look," said Terrance Jacobs, the Tigers' senior guard from Southern High School.

"There's no doubt," coach Terry Truax said, "that we're getting more talented kids. You look at a kid like Terrance Alexander, and, truthfully, he's a level above the competition we play."

So things are rolling. Oh, yes. You can tell when a Devin Boyd goes down and there is a Terrance Alexander ready to step in. You can tell watching sophomore frontcourters Matt Campbell and John James, whose palpable development ensures there won't be much decline, if any, when Lightening and Jacobs leave.

"I won't say the program is to the point where it's running itself," Truax said, "but we are getting to the point where we consistently win. Of course, we have to do something about the [NCAA] bid."

Ah. And so you see how it goes at Towson these days. Round and round. If, if, if. The talk gets big for a while, but it always works its way back around to the iffing, and everyone, well, everyone just pauses.

Where it all gets back to is the NCAA tournament, of course. The Tigers' conference, the East Coast Conference, lost its automatic bid because so many schools left the conference that it fell below the minimum membership line of six. Two new schools joined, but now another is dropping out. Yes, it's a mess.

The problem already has thrown up a cloud over this season. The Tigers' only shot at the NCAAs is an at-large bid, which is unlikely considering they would probably need a 24-3 record, their schedule is brutal and now Boyd is injured. And so, in return for their hard work, Jacobs, Lightening and Boyd have no place to go as seniors. It's indecent.

"A couple times now we've had to sit down and talk about handling a tough situation," Jacobs said. "First, it was the NCAA thing. And now Devin. Him getting hurt, that really bummed us out. But we'll be fine. You don't just cancel the season. We're excited. But we wish none of it had happened."

What are the alternatives? The Tigers could leave for the Northeast Conference, to which they've applied. The ECC could merge with another conference. Or -- worst-case scenario -- the Tigers could get stuck where they are, in a bid-less conference.

They must avoid that. They must come up with a solution or all of these years of steady growth could go for naught. Take away the lure of the NCAA tournament, and you don't recruit the players Towson is getting. Those coming in now, Alexander and Moody and the others who will follow, they're trusting the school to find a solution.

Meanwhile, this year's team goes out night after night trying to make something out of nothing, maybe win enough games to attract the attention of someone in the right place. "You play because you want to have a good season," Lightening said, "and then at the end you see what happens." What will? Hard to tell. Lots of stuff going on.

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