After learning on the job, Bears have high hopes Lighter veterans, new guard help

November 24, 1992|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

It's been a long day for Morgan State basketball coach Michael Holmes, who, just before 8 p.m., is waiting to start his team's practice. His work day began at 9 a.m., but, in order to have sole use of Hill Field House for practice -- so he can "do things right" -- Holmes holds practice late into the night.

Waiting for the wrestling and women's basketball teams to wrap up their shared session, Holmes is asked whether he feels any pressure after two rough seasons at Morgan.

"When you're up against what I'm up against -- the lack of resources, the other [teaching] responsibilities, the inability to get the gym -- you have to be a realist," Holmes said. "No, I don't feel pressured. I'm just trying to do the right thing with what I have."

Perhaps by the end of the season, Holmes will be able to smile. Because what he has is a young, talented but unproven team that is considered the sleeper in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Going with a team that was loaded with freshmen, the Bears struggled to a 6-23 record last season and only made noise when they upset MEAC co-regular-season champion North Carolina A&T in the first round of the conference tournament. It was the second straight season Morgan had pulled off a first-round upset.

Going into the 1992-93 season with what he hopes is a more mature team, Holmes said he is looking for big wins well before the end of the season.

"My first year was a wash, and last year I had to do things with all freshmen," Holmes said. "This is a sophomore team, and I still expect mistakes. But I have high expectations. I think we'll do better than what we did in the past."

Guard Ural Hogans, who was a senior, is the only player of note gone from last season's team. Back are sophomore shooting guard Obadiah Johnson and a slimmed-down front line of sophomore center Jarrod Smith and senior forward Matt Burrell. Smith, 6 feet 11, was believed to have weighed about 350 pounds last season. He is reportedly in the 300-pound range. Burrell, 6-7, who was as high as 295 last season, is down to about 275.

"I'm moving a lot better, jumping a lot better and I'm lighter on my feet," Burrell said. "I'm not getting tired as much."

Perhaps Smith and Burrell decided to slim down after watching tapes of Vince "Chico" Langston, a transfer from Ventura (Calif.) Junior College, who will be the starting point guard when the Bears open their season Tuesday at James Madison. On tape and in practice, Langston (5-9, 150) is impressive with his ball-handling, speed and ability to find the open man.

"He's got more control than we've ever had before, and he's going to be a good player," Holmes said. "He does it all. He's the best ball handler I've seen in 15 years."

Burrell has noticed a difference in tempo from practicing with Langston.

"He adds a lot more versatility, and he makes you keep your head up all the time," Burrell said. "He distributes the ball well. He's so quick, he just makes you run to keep up."

Langston, who worked all summer to improve his jumper that he says is now consistent from three-point range, also has brought confidence.

"From what I hear, the MEAC isn't that strong this year, and, from the tapes that I've watched, I don't see why we shouldn't win it all," Langston said. "I seriously believe we'll be in the NCAA tournament, and, if we don't make it, I'll be disappointed.

"They brought me here to help turn the program around," Langston added. "And I have faith in myself and faith in my teammates."

Another newcomer who should make an immediate impact is 6-6 forward Desi Jackson, a high school All-American last season at Springfield (Mass.) Central High.

"We were fortunate, very fortunate to get Desi and Chico, because, in most cases, we can't get that type of athlete," Holmes said. "We usually have to try to get the guy who's overlooked because he lacks something."

Holmes has high expectations, but he said he hopes that the team goes into the MEAC season with its confidence intact. The early-season schedule features road games against St. Louis, Georgetown, Maryland, Virginia Tech and Florida State -- five games over a 22-day span that could leave his team shattered. Morgan's first 11 games are on the road. The Bears play their home opener Jan. 16 against Maryland Eastern Shore.

"[Eleven road games] is not good for us," said Holmes, who did not make up the schedule. "It destroys the confidence of the kids because they think they have the ability to compete, but then they don't do well and become confused.

"It's not good for the kids; it's not good for the school; it's not good for my coaching record," Holmes added. "But we're on that level, and we're going to have to compete. We'll give it our best."

Tomorrow: Loyola

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