No shot, no foul: Basketball teams can't hoop it up yet

October 15, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

For as long as anyone can remember, it has been recognized as the first day college basketball teams could practice for their new seasons. For coaches and players, as well as the most die-hard fans, October 15 held special significance. "It's been that way since I was a player," said Mount St. Mary's coach Jim Phelan, who graduated from LaSalle in 1951.

But not this year. Today, college gyms throughout the area and the country are filled with the squeaks of sneakers and the thumps of balls, but there are no coaches' whistles piercing through the empty arenas.

In fact, there will be no coaches for another two weeks.

When university presidents recommended last year to cut practice time in football and basketball to make room for more study time, athletic directors heeded their request and pushed back the start of basketball practice to Nov. 1.

"Two weeks deeper into a semester is good," said Maryland athletic director Andy Geiger. "I've never heard of a basketball team that didn't get stale the third week of practice."

The area's eight Division I coaches said they are unanimous in their disapproval. Many believe the new rule will be changed, or least amended, by next season. They feel that a one-week compromise would be fair for all concerned.

"It's going to be tough on everybody," Coppin State coach Fang Mitchell said. "When you take two weeks away, the product is not going to be a finished one. If anything, it's going to put more pressure on the players."

With most teams beginning their seasons Dec. 1, it means that coaches will have a month to implement what they normally took six weeks to do.

It will also be a cram course for many of the area's players, especially the freshmen.

It's going to be most difficult on new coaches, such as Navy's Don DeVoe and Maryland-Eastern Shore's Robert Chavez, who are trying to implement their systems. It's also going to be hard on coaches with young teams, such as Mitchell and Maryland's Gary Williams.

"We always felt very secure with the six weeks," said DeVoe, who is entering his 20th season as a Division I coach. "Everybody is a little cautious."

"The young guys are going to have to learn quite a bit about our offense in a short amount of time," Maryland senior guard Kevin McLinton said.

Even Towson State's Terry Truax, who has been a proponent of the shorter practice period, said that trying to squeeze everything he needs to teach into a shorter time frame will be a challenge.

"We're going from having 34 to 36 practices to 25," Truax said.

"I think the intent is good, to reduce the number of hours athletes spend in their particular sport. But are kids really using that extra time to study?"

The delayed start of the season for most teams from the last week of November to Dec. 1 means that most coaches are looking at jam-packed non-conference schedules the rest of the month.

In some cases, that means more missed class time for traveling.

"It's doing the opposite of what it was intended to do," UMBC coach Earl Hawkins said. "Most players do better academically when they're in season, so why don't we want to keep them in-season longer?"

Maryland's Williams said: "When the players are in a disciplined setting like practice, it carries over to the rest of the school day. They know they have a certain amount of time to get things done."

Coaches hope their players will use this extra time to get in better shape for the season, both academically and athletically.

As for the coaches, there's not much to do. Recruiting is done until next month's early signing period. And how much videotape can somebody watch?

"It's going to give me a chance to do some things around the house," Loyola coach Tom Schneider said.

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