Inge finds his place at the Mount

February 24, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

EMMITSBURG -- How good is Riley Inge?

Good enough to take nearly two years off from the game that has defined him for most of his life, then return and quickly prove to be an unusually talented point guard.

Good enough to look like a veteran after two months in a college uniform. Good enough to get Mount St. Mary's to stop hoping, and start believing, it can win its first Northeast Conference title.

How smart is Riley Inge? Smart enough to know that basketball isn't everything, even if he learned that lesson the hard way.

Two years ago at Paint Branch High School in Montgomery County, Inge could do no wrong, at least when he had a basketball. A four-year starter at point guard, Inge helped carry Paint Branch to the Class 4A title game as a senior.

The college recruiters were flocking to Paint Branch to see this wiry, 6-foot-4 kid with the long arms and big hands, whose height, quickness, ball-handling skills and uncommon court instincts set him apart.

"I'm very unselfish with the ball. I've been told I'm too unselfish with the ball," said Inge, a 20-year-old sophomore who averaged 20.0 points, 9.0 assists and 7.5 steals as a high school senior. "I don't want to shoot 20 times a game. When I'm passing as well as I can, I think it rubs off on people. Other people want to make the extra pass, too."

If only Inge would have passed one off-the-court test, his college career might have unfolded differently. But after he failed to muster the necessary 700 score on his Scholastic Assessment Test, schools like Providence and Florida State shied away from him. Inge decided to accept a scholarship in 1992 from junior college power San Jacinto (Texas), where former Dunbar great Michael Lloyd plays.

But the experiment turned out to be short-lived. Before the season, Inge decided to return home. He gave up his scholarship and left the campus with no credits and no plans -- he says, for good reason.

"I didn't like the fact that the coaches weren't really concerned about how I did in the classroom," Inge said.

Inge harbors no grudges. The person he blames most for his academic problems is himself.

"The time I spent playing AAU ball, I could've been getting tutored for the SAT," he said. "But I couldn't put the ball down."

Forced to relinquish the ball and re-evaluate his future, Inge eventually turned his sights to Mount St. Mary's. Why the Mount? Chris McGuthrie, a friend who had played against Inge since junior high school, was playing point guard at the Mount, where he would be selected NEC Newcomer of the Year.

Mount St. Mary's coach Jim Phelan never considered going after Inge when he was in high school, what with Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East schools pursuing him. But circumstances had changed drastically in a year. This time, Inge was looking for the right school at which to start over. The more Inge thought about playing in the same backcourt as McGuthrie, the more the idea appealed to him.

So Inge enrolled last spring at Mount St. Mary's. His mother paid the tuition, with the help of some financial aid.

After two successful semesters, Inge won a basketball scholarship and joined the Mountaineers with sophomore eligibility on Dec. 18 against Bucknell. For the team's new point guard, it would be his first game in 21 months.

"What surprised me was that I wasn't a bit nervous," Inge said. "I thought I would have some butterflies, but I realized I've never been nervous before a basketball game."

He promptly recorded a double double (11 points, 10 assists) that helped the Mountaineers win.

"We felt that by playing him right away, Riley was going to help us down the road," Phelan says. "It was a case of throwing him in, having everybody get used to him, and we'll take our chances that way."

After the Bucknell game, the Mountaineers stalled, losing six straight. Part of that, McGuthrie says, was attributable to Inge and the team adjusting to each other.

"We had to make an adjustment, and he had been off for two years. He had to get on the same page as everyone else," McGuthrie said.

The Mountaineers (12-12, 8-8) were playing well until center Randy Edney suffered a knee injury. Since then, they have lost four of their past five games to fall five games behind first-place Rider in the NEC, although Inge continues to improve. In 21 games, he is averaging 13.1 points, 6.0 assists -- tops in the NEC -- 2.0 steals and 4.3 rebounds.

"Now, all I have to worry about is shooting and scoring," says McGuthrie, the team's leading scorer who gladly moved to shooting guard upon Inge's return. "A lot of guys don't realize how much easier Riley makes the game for them."

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