UMES still changing, maybe for better COLLEGE BASKETBALL

November 28, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

The team has endured 18 straight losing seasons, and ha never had a winning record in 13 years on the Division I level.

The school has had four head coaches in the past three years. Little wonder that, in some college basketball circles, it's called U-Mess.

So why is the University of Maryland Eastern Shore entering the 1992-93 season with a strange air of confidence?

The answer is simple.

The challenge is not.

"I don't want to get trapped in the past," said coach Rob Chavez, the source of the optimism. "If you get trapped, it's pretty hard to get out."

Chavez, 34, came virtually out of nowhere -- Chemetka Community College in Salem, Ore. -- when he was hired last June to take on one of the sport's most woebegone programs. Last year saw Bob Hopkins resign in the midst of an 0-16 start, replaced by assistant coach Bob Wilkerson.

Even after the Hawks finished a 3-25 season with nine straight defeats, many believed Wilkerson, a member of Indiana's 1976 NCAA championship team, would have been the likely choice to stay on.

Dr. Hallie Gregory said that the decision was clear: Chavez simply overwhelmed him and the search committee, both with )) his resume and in his interview. Even more impressive than Chavez's 136-24 record in five years at Chemetka was his game plan for UMES' resurrection.

"We were certainly impressed with his organization," said Gregory. "I was impressed with his paperwork. But he really sold himself when he got on campus."

When Chavez was introduced as UMES' new basketball coach, there were certainly more than a few raised eyebrows. Aside from the coaching record and the resume, which included stints as an assistant at three Division I schools, Chavez held one distinct difference from both his predecessors and his competition.

He was white.

"The kids wanted someone to come in and get the job done," said Gregory. "It has nothing to do with the color of a person's skin."

"I didn't know how open they would be to a white coach," said Chavez. "I asked, 'Am I going to be seriously considered?' In the back of my mind, I knew it could be a factor."

As things turned out, it wasn't. With a lot less fanfare than Nolan Richardson received at Arkansas when he became the first black coach in the Southeastern Conference, or than Bob Wade got at Maryland when he broke the color barrier in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Chavez became the first white coach in the historically black Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

"I think it's a plus for him," said Howard coach Butch Beard, who turned to the college ranks because he couldn't get a head coaching job in the NBA. "White kids are going to look at Eastern Shore quicker than Howard. And he's still going to get the kids who want to play at an historically black school."

Just as nothing deterred Chavez in his dream of becoming a Division I head coach -- a dream he carried from high school in Glenwood Springs, Colo., where his father, Bob, was the winningest high school coach in state history -- Chavez remains optimistic at his chances of turning things around at UMES.

"I knew it wasn't going to be easy," said Chavez. "I felt confident that the people here were pretty realistic. They realize that it's not going to be done overnight."

And Chavez knew that he wasn't going to do it by himself. He hired Jeff Menday, a fellow junior college coach, and Darryl Bruce, a former Towson State player and assistant coach, as his assistants. It marks the first time that UMES has two full-time assistants.

Together, they brought in six recruits, including 6-foot-2 guard Aaron McKinney of Portland, Ore., and 6-6 forward Mike Smith of St. Frances in Baltimore. They helped four of last year's players, including leading scorer Marlin Kimbrew, regain their eligibility. And, slowly, they tried to instill a work ethic.

"Practice is a lot harder, a lot more intense," said Kimbrew. "We're more confident. He makes you do it right. He makes sure that you're mentally prepared."

"I always knew it was going to be a monumental challenge," said Chavez. "But if we do a good job coaching and good job recruiting and a good job of keeping the kids eligible, we can become competitive."

UMES at a glance

Coach: Rob Chavez (first season; five seasons overall 136-24)

Affiliation: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Last season's record: 3-25, 2-15 in MEAC

Radio: WESM (91.3 FM)

Starters lost: Simon Edwards, Vincent Huger

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