Morgan pursues new heights Fuller's Bears bigger and, they say, better

State college preview

November 19, 1996|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Undersized. Over-scheduled. Undermanned. In most of their games last season, those descriptions fit struggling Morgan State.

Morgan did not shoot or rebound well at all, yet came within five points of a winning league record and played respectably on the road at Kansas State and Creighton.

The plight of forward Chris Watson exemplified what the Bears ** were about.

"Things were tough, being my height and playing the center position," said Watson, a 6-foot-5 senior tri-captain who averaged a team-high 5.7 rebounds.

"I kind of held my own because of my strength, even though I always seemed to be checking 7-footers. Now, we've got some guys who will help our rebounding situation."

"Chris was overmatched in most of our games, so we're moving him away from the basket," said coach Chris Fuller. "We don't want him to do all the dirty work this year."

In turn, the extra help and a reduction in the rebounding deficit -- an average of 44-33 last season -- should enable Morgan to be more selective about its shots and take its sometimes-forced three-point game closer to the basket.

"We'll probably still be somewhat of a perimeter team," said Fuller. "But we should be better balanced. We should score more close to the basket and our field-goal percentage [.400] should go up."

The improvement under Fuller, a first-year coach last season, was noticeable, and the Bears are aiming for at least .500 this season.

"I feel we're the most underrated team in the MEAC," Watson said. "We competed in every game. With a little more height and smartness, we'd have won a lot of those games. Now, I think we definitely can be among the top three in the conference. We've only got 10 home games, and I don't think we should let anybody beat us there."

Inside, the assistance should come from top recruit O'Tes Alston, from Fuller's native Buffalo, N.Y., area, and Arnold Martin, a 6-10 defensive specialist who is improving daily.

"O'Tes plays a lot bigger than he is [6-7], and he's very intense," said Fuller. "He will help us scrap in there.

"I don't know how many offensive numbers Martin can put up, but he sure helps us on the defensive end. He can challenge some shots."

Outside, the Bears' accuracy should be better because veteran Jerard Rucker will be shifted to a more comfortable spot, shooting guard, and because transfer Tremaine Byrd "is a tremendous shooter with a chance to be a pressure player," Fuller said.

And more familiarity with Fuller's system and the players' belief in it should be a plus.

"This is the fourth year I've been with him," said Watson, who played for Fuller at Erie (Pa.) Community College before coming to Morgan. "Coach Fuller is real smart. He knows basketball. Last year, we just didn't have the tools. This year, we have more."

The Bears may have begun to turn the corner in late January, when they nearly upset Coppin State on the road.

"That was a big confidence booster," said Watson. "It showed us that just because we were small was no reason we couldn't compete."

The progress probably will not be evident early, because the Bears plunge into another backbreaking schedule of heavyweights on the road, including UCLA, which is ranked No. 1 in some preseason polls.

By the time the team returns to Hill Field House for its second home game Jan. 18, its record almost certainly will be unimpressive. But Watson said he welcomes the challenge.

"It prepares us mentally for the MEAC," he said, "so we can stand up and hold our own. When we almost beat Kansas State, it did a lot for our confidence."

"We did make some strides last year," said Fuller. "And I expect us to be a little better because we went and got some guys I have to look up to.

"The schedule is tough, but not as tough as last year's in terms of travel, and we've got eight or nine kids back who can help you with the teaching aspect."

Morgan will do some more learning this season, but signs are that this team is starting to grow already.

What's next

@4

Coming college basketball previews in The Sun:

Tomorrow: Mount St. Mary's, UMBC

Thursday: State women

Friday: Loyola, UMES

Nov. 25: Coppin State

Nov. 26: Maryland

Morgan State at a glance

Coach: Chris Fuller (7-20), second season.

Affiliation: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

1995-96 record: 7-20, 6-10 in the MEAC.

Radio: WEAA (88.9 FM)

Arena: Hill Field House (5,500)

Tickets: $5 general admission, $2 students

Starters lost: Paul Grant

Best home game: Coppin State, Feb. 1; city rivalry always draws enthusiastic crowd

Best visiting player: Terquin Mott, Coppin State; hard to stop for smallish Bears

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