Calmly riding out the storm High hopes grounded: Towson State and Scooter Alexander saw grand expectations derailed by a few problems and a late-season slump.

March 02, 1996|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The joke around Towson State a couple weeks ago was that if senior guard Scooter Alexander didn't turn up soon, someone would have to file a missing persons report.

Then the asides turned into genuine concern. Alexander missed three days of classes and no one knew his whereabouts.

Once Alexander contacted coach Terry Truax with his explanation -- he'll only say it was for personal reasons -- he had to sit out a Feb. 16 loss to Drexel, and didn't start the next game against Hofstra.

It was the latest bump in the road for Towson State on its first ride through the North Atlantic Conference. What looks like a smooth, promising road winds up pothole-filled.

This isn't how Alexander, who is averaging a career-low 11.7 points while shooting 42 percent from the field, envisioned his final collegiate season. And he definitely had bigger expectations for the Tigers than being 15-11 and seeded fifth heading into today's quarterfinal round of the NAC tournament in Delaware.

At one time, the Tigers were 8-2 in the league and challenging Drexel for first place. But that was before they lost five of their last eight games, giving them more stagger than swagger going into the tournament.

"I'd call the state of this team frustrated right now," said assistant coach Jim Meil. "The way some of our games have evolved, it seems we get going, then we hit a stumbling block. There's been no smooth flow."

That's how Alexander's season has gone, too. He sat out 1994-95 as a redshirt, looking forward to Towson's move to the North Atlantic this year. But he has gone hot and cold on the court.

A low point came after after he missed a practice because of car trouble and was brought off the bench against Hofstra on Jan. 23. With a scout from the Denver Nuggets watching, he made two of nine shots and finished with four points, and Towson State lost by 20.

"The layoff hurt me a little more than I thought," said Alexander, who will leave Towson State as its No. 3 all-time scorer. "I wasn't really in shape like I needed to be. But I'm not disappointed. Basketball is just a game, and I still love the game, regardless."

But he doesn't seem to need it as much anymore. The main reason he didn't play last season was because he wanted to devote more time to his studies. Now, he's on pace to graduate in May with a degree in mass communications.

He has other responsibilities that supersede basketball, such as a 6-year old daughter who lives with her mother in West Baltimore.

"He's a good person, a caring person," said Meil, who has known Alexander since the Dunbar graduate was 14. "It was a little bit unusual for him to kind of withdraw like he did those couple of days, but he takes his involvement with his daughter very seriously. He leads a personal life that's filled with responsibilities, more than the average college student might have.

". . . And he's a good kid who's matured a lot. His grandmother passed away last year, and that was tough for him. All things considered, he's handled everything pretty well."

That includes some of the scrutiny that the program has been under this season. Two other starters, seniors Ralph Blalock and Stevie Thomas, have been benched for missing practice, and junior guard DeRon Robinson was suspended for one game after walking out of a shoot-around.

"You've got a lot of people sitting around and analyzing things from the outside when you're losing," said Alexander, a two-time All-Big South selection. "These aren't really problems. These things have gone on in the past, but it wasn't so much magnified because we were winning. But I think we're together. Everyone wants to win, and that's all you can ask for."

He may control the Tigers' fate this weekend. "When he doesn't play well, it affects the team," Truax said, "and when he plays well, it affects the team.

"I'm not happy with the overall performance of this team; it's obvious they've underachieved. But in terms of liking the kids and caring about the kids, that will never change. And I'm very fond of Scooter. I just wish I could have helped him more, or he would have felt comfortable to let me know what was wrong.

"Scooter's meant a lot to the program. He's done an awful lot of good things. As much as anybody on this team, and more so than most, I'd like to see him go out this weekend a winner and finish up on a really happy note."

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