Mount wants long encore after season of surprises

November 24, 1993|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

EMMITSBURG -- A year ago, it was different.

The school president was urging legendary coach Jim Phelan to retire just as the basketball season was ready to start.

Mount St. Mary's was coming off the worst record (6-22) of Phelan's long tenure and the prospects ap- peared minimal for noticeable improvement.

But the Mountaineers challenged all season for the Northeast Conference lead, Phelan passed the 700-victory milestone and diminutive guard Chris McGuthrie bloomed into a star.

The coach, now in his 40th season, said the problem regarding his job "came along at a time that we really didn't need it. Now it's not here any more."

Enter a new difficulty: Increased expectations.

For an encore, the team wants badly to win the NEC title and gain the NCAA Division I tournament for the first time.

It is a reasonable goal despite only two returning starters and a question about the eligibility of the player who could move McGuthrie to shooting guard.

"There is a little bit of motivation with us," said forward Michael Watson, the NEC's leading sixth man who will shift into the

starting lineup.

"We're more upbeat this year and believe we have the talent to do it. I don't think we have pressure to prove anything to anybody but ourselves."

Added McGuthrie, "Last season [13-15, 10-8 in the NEC] was still pretty bad. It wasn't good enough. I had very high expectations, but I've lost some of them during practice.

"I think we'll be OK, but we've got to remember to play hard and play smart all the time. If everybody does that, it'll work out fine."

There are no milestones that Phelan can attain to distract this squad, which lost three starters, including guard Kevin Booth, a 17-point scorer in the NEC.

And the Mountaineers are loaded with gifted backcourt players and swingmen, a necessity in their league. How well the influx of newcomers performs up front will determine the outcome of the season.

"We were picked fourth, which is a good position for us," said Phelan. "We've got enough experience and some good players."

Burly Randy Edney, 6 feet 11, 260 pounds, who has a good shooting touch for his size, and 6-6, 230-pound Larry Townes, whose strength and quickness provide the team with a different dimension, can take some heat off the guards if they are offensive threats.

And if 6-4 Riley Inge becomes eligible to play the point the second semester as anticipated, McGuthrie could be destined for a huge season.

"With Riley coming in, 2 guard is the only place I'd be able to play," McGuthrie said. "He's a lot bigger, he's got all the skills and he'll kill you offensively if you don't pay him any attention.

"There won't be a lot of pressing us with him out there. Last year, I was a scoring point guard [19.8 average]. When Riley comes in, I can go and open up even more."

Before then, McGuthrie is likely to start at the point with Sefton Robinson playing there occasionally. Phil Galvin, a force with his three-point shooting two seasons ago, will handle the off guard with Watson, Matt Meakin and probably Townes up front.

Ailments have clouded the front line picture somewhat with Chad Stull suffering a knee injury that turned into a deep thigh bruise and Kenny Gardner, a freshman who was redshirted last season because of a broken foot, having back problems.

Watson doesn't mind moving into the starting lineup at all. He said he thinks he can provide some inspiration to the youth on the team.

"To an extent, I want to start to let the younger guys see what I'm doing," he said. "I want to let them know we're out there to win by stepping up my game."

McGuthrie said he has seen a lack of leadership in drills and might be forced into correcting it, although he is only a sophomore.

"It's not really my personality to take over," he said. "But we've got a problem with intensity. I'm going to try to be a leader."

Mount St. Mary's didn't have a home game until the Christmas break last season. This time, there will be four games at Knott Arena before the team tackles a formidable road stretch at Georgia Tech, Florida State and West Virginia.

But in the league, the Mount performed well for a change, taking six of its last 10 away from Emmitsburg.

"We'd like to think playing close to friendly faces will help us get off to a better start," said Phelan.

With McGuthrie the Mountaineers solved the problem of getting the ball down the court. They rebounded better, played better defense and gave their fans hope.

A combination of players will have to compensate for the loss of Booth's offense, particularly Galvin.

But the seven-game improvement this team made in the NEC could be even greater if the focus is there.

"We want to go undefeated, but we know there will be ups and downs," said McGuthrie. "All it takes is playing hard all the time."

MOUNT ST. MARY'S AT A GLANCE

Coach: Jim Phelan, 40th season, 706-365

Affiliation: Northeast Conference

1992-91 record: 13-15, 10-8 in Northeast

Radio: WQSI (820 AM)

Starters lost: Kevin Booth, Anthony Carr, Dave Nanni

Outlook: A window of opportunity is open for the Mounts, who recovered from two poor seasons to make an impact in the Northeast Conference. With Darrick Suber graduated from Rider and 6-foot-11 Miladin Mutavdzic transferred from Wagner, last season's two top teams have been weakened. Four home games at the start is a departure from previous Division I seasons, and if newcomer Riley Inge becomes eligible the second semester, moving Chris McGuthrie to shooting guard, the Mounts could have the best backcourt in the league. A lot depends on how rapidly the new front line matures. Randy Edney and Larry Townes are probably the keys to the season.

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