Sidney Goodman led Coppin State with 23 points last night, and kept scoring right through his post-game interview. The senior point guard was so predictable, so boring, coach Ron "Fang" Mitchell probably will hug him before Coppin plays for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship today.
This is what Fang wants, a team that is programmed both on and off the court. The Eagles got carried away with themselves last season, and suffered the most embarrassing defeat of Mitchell's nine-year tenure. No way that will happen this time. No way Coppin will blow the NCAA bid it deserves.
The Eagles are still haunted by their loss to Morgan State in the first round of last year's MEAC tournament -- 7-20 Morgan State, about-to-fire-its-coach Morgan State. Goodman went 0-for-8 in that game, against a team Coppin had beaten in the regular season by 30 and 18 points.
The day before, he had been quoted as saying, "This is my floor. I'm the leader out there, and things are going to go my way." What the heck, Coppin had won 35 straight games against MEAC competition. But Mitchell sounded a more ominous tone, proclaiming, "My life is in Sidney's hands."
Fang lived to see another day -- he's the coach.
But guess what?
Goodman survived, too.
"That was uncharacteristic of a player on my team to make a statement like that," Mitchell said after last night's 88-75 victory over Bethune-Cookman in the MEAC semifinals.
"The problem was, he had made the statement about 10 days prior to that, and it came out the day before the tournament. His timing was real bad. If he had let me know earlier, I could have smacked him."
Mitchell chuckled, then panicked.
"Don't quote on me that," he begged. "My pastor will get upset."
Ah, maybe Mitchell will relax if Coppin beats North Carolina A&T today to earn its third NCAA tournament bid in six years. He has finally come to terms with last year's 61-60 loss to Morgan, figured out exactly what went wrong.
"Too much pressure," Mitchell said.
Where from, El Fango?
"The media," he replied.
There you have it folks -- the first coach in MEAC history to complain about too much press.
"Ah, even in USA Today, they had us going against UCLA -- as a 12th seed!" Mitchell recalled, still indignant.
Not surprisingly, he ordered his players to cool it, not that he ever gave them much freedom to begin with. "We haven't had any quotes," Fang announced proudly before last night's game. Afterward, Goodman made sure the streak remained intact.
"I just wanted to get everyone into the game," Goodman said.
What about today?
"We just want to come out, play hard, let the game come to us and hopefully we'll get the victory."
The truth is, Goodman wasn't boasting when he spoke out last season -- "I didn't mean it in that sense," he said. "I meant it as though when we step onto the court at Coppin State, I'm the leader of the team."
And then came the disaster against Morgan, on the same Hill Field House floor where this tournament is being played.
"That game was tough for all of us, and he played a terrible game," said Coppin assistant Nate Blackwell, the former Temple point guard who Goodman emulated growing up in Camden, N.J.
"It was very uncharacteristic of him not to show up for a big game. I felt for him. His heart was there. It just wasn't his night. I wished I could have done something for him. But he had to work through it himself."
And so Goodman did. He's the Eagles' version of Cal Ripken -- last night was his 100th straight start. He's first-team All-MEAC for the second straight year. He's Coppin's fourth all-time leading scorer, and all-time leader in steals.
Last night, he hit eight of 12 shots and contributed six rebounds and three assists. Twice in the final 10 minutes, he hit jumpers after Bethune-Cookman cut the Coppin lead to six points. "Sidney played so large, so big for us," Mitchell said. "He understands what this is about. He doesn't want to be denied."
Mitchell loves it when his seniors finally mature, because it means they've endured, they've met his demands. He'll suspend a player in a heartbeat, even run him off the team. "You don't
have to do an awful lot at Coppin to be dismissed," he said earlier this season. "Attitudes wear on me -- the wrong ones."
The way Fang sees it, "It's all about life -- we use basketball tools to educate them about life." His biggest tool is the bench. That's where a non-conformist will sit, right in the coach's seat, until he sees the light. Ask Goodman. Ask MEAC Player of the Year Stephen Stewart. Ask any of them.
"We've got seven seniors this year," Mitchell said. "They've all got their aspirations. Everyone wants to be somebody. Sometimes, things don't run as smooth as you want. We had to do some therapy. Someone told me the bench is the best therapy for all these type of problems."
And here's Goodman, fresh off Dr. Fang's couch.
"It's been interesting, very interesting," he said of his four years // under Mitchell. "For the most part, it's been a learning experience. He brings out the best in you. He's a great coach, a great man."
Well put, Sidney.