Under twin stress, Chavez still delivers New UMES coach has turned out respectable team

March 01, 1993|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Staff Writer

PRINCESS ANNE -- Five months and 15,000 miles ago, Rob Chavez discovered a new definition for stress.

When Chavez was named basketball coach at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore last June, he took over a program with no continuity, a decade's worth of losing and one eligible player. The package also included the scrutiny that came with being the first white coach in the historically black Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Chavez became a father Oct. 5, when his wife, Susie, gave birth to twin daughters. Born two months before term, Lindsay and Carlyn weighed 3 pounds each. Their first six weeks were spent in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at University of Maryland Hospital, and the Ronald McDonald House became home.

Pardon Chavez if he shook his head at the major conference coaches bemoaning the loss of two weeks' practice last October.

"The Honda was new when we got here," said Chavez, who moved 3,000 miles from a junior college in Oregon to the Eastern Shore. "We were able to bring the girls home two days before Thanksgiving, but between Nov. 1 and then, I usually drove to Baltimore after practice and came right back, or spent the night there and came back here in the morning.

"It's been a trying year, but it's also been very gratifying. With the time we had to put in here and the recruiting we needed to do, the basketball program needed a lot of 80-90-hour weeks, but the girls also required attention."

At a Feb. 18 checkup, Carlyn (10 pounds, 12 ounces) and Lindsay (10, 10) were actually overweight.

"The girls are still on monitors, and the stress has been unbelievable," Susie Chavez said. "Rob's remained calm through it all, but he's always been that way. Rob's prepared for anything. He's very meticulous, and he plans everything."

The numbers for UMES are just as encouraging. The Hawks take a 12-14 record and the No. 6 seed into the MEAC tournament in Norfolk. UMES will play third-seeded South Carolina State on Friday at 8 p.m. It's the most wins since UMES rejoined the MEAC in 1982.

Man with a plan

Chavez, 35, was in junior high when he knew he was going to be a coach, but the bug bit him earlier. His father won 486 games, the second-highest total in Colorado high school history, and Chavez said: "I remember sitting on the bench in my little shirt and tie at the Denver Arena when one of his teams went to the state finals. I was probably 8-9 years old."

Chavez was the point guard in 1975 on one of his father's three state championship teams, and then explored western college basketball. He was an NAIA star for Mesa (Colo.) College, and saw the Big Sky Conference (Montana State), the Western Athletic (Colorado State) and Pacific-10 (Arizona State) as an assistant.

He went to Chemeketa (Ore.) Community College for head coaching experience, and was 136-24 in five seasons. But the quickest way to a Division I job was to go east, where there's an abundance of small, struggling programs.

"I wasn't going to walk into the University of Oregon right away," Chavez said. "I knew that if I ever got a Division I job, it would be like this, at the bottom of the totem pole."

There has been too little to cheer about at UMES since the Hawks reached the NAIA final in 1973 and played in the NIT the next year. The football program was dropped in 1980, and the basketball team hasn't had a winner since 1981. During the past eight years, the Hawks never had finished higher than next-to-last in the MEAC.

Chavez's background with junior college players who needed to get their academics in order was helpful, because one player, reserve guard Mike Arnold, was eligible for the 1992-93 season at the conclusion of the spring 1992 semester.

"The wild thing is that we all left school thinking we were eligible," said Marlin Kimbrew, a senior who is the first UMES player named MEAC first-team in seven years. "When Chavez called and let me know the situation, I got my butt back down here and took six credits. Right away, we knew the guy was on his p's and q's."

Chavez is the sixth UMES coach since 1984, and the program has gone through a commensurate number of players. No one from two seasons ago is still around. Chavez asked, "How many good, eligible players are available June 15?" But he, nonetheless, brought in six recruits last summer.

He rounded up three freshmen, including Aaron McKinney, who was tagged for Chemeketa. Dale Harrison came from a junior college in California, and assistant coach Jeff Menday brought Zack Allison with him from Salt Lake City JC.

All 11 carried 2.0 grade-point averages at the end of last semester, as did Duray Thirdgill, a transfer from Chemeketa who went back home in December.

Chavez is using seven men, and Allison, 6 feet 4, and Harrison, 6-2, came up big in what is usually a three-guard lineup. The flimsy mix was the preseason choice to finish last in the nine-team MEAC, but UMES won three of its first four conference games. Eight of its 12 wins have been by six or fewer points.

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