Lucas, Navy's top gun, shows true grit No demon on defense, sophomore's work ethic augments offensive ability

March 02, 1996|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

When it comes to recruiting, Navy assistant coach Doug Wojcik readily admits a little luck is required.

Take the case of Eddie Lucas, the 6-foot-4 sophomore who has replaced Michael Heary as Navy's top gun (11.4 ppg). Lucas has become the "go-to" guy as the Midshipmen begin their quest for an NCAA bid in the Patriot League tournament opener against Army today in Worcester, Mass.

"I scouted Lucas in 1992 at a prep school Superstars summer camp in Santa Barbara [Calif.], and frankly I didn't think he was good enough to play Division I basketball," said Wojcik. "It just proves there is no perfect formula to scouting."

Lucas acknowledges his audition was less than impressive, but he did not give up easily. He was determined to play at the Naval Academy and follow in the footsteps of his father, Robert, a 1968 graduate.

"I had a solid senior year at Redlands [Calif.] High," said Lucas, capable of playing guard and forward. "I averaged 21 points and made All-County and second team All-State."

He received a scholarship offer from UC-Riverside and feelers from the Air Force Academy, but Navy remained his top priority.

Then his father and older brother, Robert Jr., picked up the ball, compiling a highlight film from his senior year.

"They made sure not to leave in anything negative," Lucas said, laughing.

The film was dispatched to Navy's dean of admissions Jack Renard, for whom Robert Lucas Sr. once worked. Renard, in turn, delivered it to assistant athletic director Dave Smalley, in charge of athletic admissions.

Recalled Smalley: "I took one look at the film and told Renard, 'This kid is as good as we can get here.' "

Still, the Navy coaching staff remained under-whelmed.

After spending a year at Navy Preparatory School, Lucas believed he was ready for varsity competition. Instead, he found himself just another face on the junior varsity roster and played only one minute of varsity ball last season.

"When Lucas first came here, we had a logjam at guard," said Navy coach Don DeVoe. "We still had T. J. Hall, Greg Stephens, plus the Torgrimson brothers, Randy and Ryan, and then Heary had a great freshman season. I just thought Lucas would benefit more by playing a lot of minutes for the JVs."

But that was only part of the reason for making Lucas wait his turn.

"If you want a good shooter on the floor, you'd pick Eddie in a heartbeat," DeVoe said. "He has the ability to race down the floor, stop on a dime and make a feathery three-point shot.

"But he's been slow to grasp our man-to-man defensive principles. We always felt he was lost out there. Since the days I worked for Bobby Knight at Army, I've always been one to preach defense first."

Lucas is still less than a defensive demon, but his ability to create shots, his accuracy from three- point range (.446) and his gift for grabbing offensive rebounds have forced DeVoe to give him extensive playing time.

"We didn't take Eddie on our summer trip to Scandinavia, but one worked harder in the off-season to improve his game and get stronger," DeVoe said. "He was in the weight room every day, and he's probably the strongest player on the team."

Lucas made an immediate impact this season, scoring 22 points in a season-opening, overtime victory against Air Force. He since has been used mainly in a sixth-man role to ignite the offense, saving his best for conference play, where he ranks eighth in scoring (14.4).

"People say I'm a natural shooter," said Lucas. "They don't realize that in high school I'd shoot 1,000 shots a day. I was determined to play Division I ball and worked my tail off.

"This year, I was just trying to prove to everybody I could play on this level and help the team. It took awhile to get my chance, and I've got to keep working hard to improve."

Said DeVoe: "If Eddie ever gets thinking defense the way he plays offense, he is going to leave an indelible mark on this team before he graduates."

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