Morgan grabs hometown star Basketball: UNC-Charlotte's loss of former Gilman star Jimmy Fields looks like a big gain for the Bears' program.

November 15, 1997|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

To the outside world, Jimmy Fields is a basketball wunderkind who has come home to save the floundering Morgan State program.

To his Morgan classmates, he is "just Jimmy."

Fields, 5 feet 10, said he enjoys playing both roles after a one-year flirtation with prime-time collegiate basketball at UNC-Charlotte.

"At a big school, you're just a basketball player," said Fields. "Here, I can be more like any other student. And I would never have been anything but a role player down there. Smaller guys usually have smaller roles."

The Bears need Fields to fill far more than a small role tonight when they open the season against Iona at 7: 30 at the Baltimore City Community College gym (the old CCB arena on Liberty Heights Avenue).

In one season at UNC-Charlotte, Fields said he averaged four to five minutes a game and wasn't really part of the offense.

"I didn't shoot much," he said. "I was just out there to give other guys a rest. Here, I have an opportunity to do what I did in high school."

High school was a four-year run at Gilman in which he went from an 11-point average as a freshman to 23 points as a senior.

Then it was on to Bridgeton Academy prep school in Maine for one season, where he averaged 23 points and 10 assists.

That was enough to convince Jeff Mullins, the UNC-Charlotte coach, that Fields could play at a high level in college.

But one season as a backup was all Fields could take, and word soon reached Morgan coach Chris Fuller that the ex-Gilman star was ready to transfer.

Fuller first saw Fields playing in a summer game in 1996 in the Baltimore City Community College gym and never forgot the skills and tenaciousness he witnessed.

"Jimmy is that special-style player who doesn't come along very often," said Fuller. "He's a great athlete, is extremely quick and plays much bigger than 5-10. I'd say he plays even bigger than 6-4. When he wants to, he can take over a game and, yes, he can dunk it."

Fuller said scoring is just one of many things Fields is going to be asked to do for the Bears.

"We're asking Jimmy to do so much for us," said Fuller. "We need him to be our leader, run the offense, play great defense, make good decisions and maybe least of all score. But if he can go out every night and score 23 points with everything else he is doing, it won't make me mad."

Fuller tries to weigh his words carefully when talking about the impact Fields can have on his program.

The coach knows the arrival of the high-flying player could be the big break his program has needed to take off and possibly join city rival Coppin State as a perennial threat to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title and make the NCAA tournament.

But Fuller also knows he has to keep Fields' presence in perspective for fear of putting too much pressure on him and possibly alienating the other recruits the coach has brought in this season.

"In some people's minds, Jimmy gives us instant credibility," said Fuller. "But I don't like to think the first two years I've been here have been wasted. I like to think we've worked hard and prepared our program to the point where we can attract youngsters like Jimmy."

It's hard to believe that a player such as Fields, who is known for his scoring, could be "too unselfish," but Fuller says it's true.

"He has a desire to please too many people on the court by getting them the basketball," said Fuller. "I told him, 'Jimmy, the only person you have to please is me.' "

But Fields said passing the ball on a fast break is his favorite part of the game, even though he does like to pull up for an occasional three-point shot.

"In high school, I shot four to five threes a game, and at Morgan I'll probably shoot one or two in a game. We have some great outside shooters on the wing on this team and if we get our inside players going, we could cause a lot of trouble for teams," said Fields.

However, he concedes there are obstacles in Morgan State's path to basketball success.

"A lot of obstacles," said Fields. "People look at Morgan and say they're always losing. We have to overcome that image, and it won't be easy playing on a small home court [BCCC] like we have."

The Bears will play all their home games at the Liberty Heights facility while Hill Field House is undergoing renovations.

There are some nice perks, though, awaiting Fields and the Bears in just five days.

They will be traveling to the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz., Thursday to meet the defending national-champion Arizona Wildcats.

"That will be the biggest game in Morgan history," said Fields. "Don't let anybody tell you this is just another game. I know everyone assumes we're going to get blown out, but you never schedule a game knowing you're going to lose. We think we can compete. Sure, I'll be a little nervous, but it won't be fear of Arizona."

Pub Date: 11/15/97

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