Thunder wants more than Gait show Tucker reminds his team star can't do it alone

January 02, 1998|By Steven Kivinski | Steven Kivinski,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Gary Gait, the newest and most celebrated member of the Baltimore Thunder, is expected to draw a crowd every time he touches the ball this season.

Thunder coach John Tucker just hopes Gait's teammates aren't among the spectators.

"If we stand around and watch, which sometimes happens with a great player like Gait on your team, we won't be effective," said Tucker, whose team opens the inaugural National Lacrosse League season with a game against the Syracuse Smash tomorrow night at 8 at the Baltimore Arena.

"I had to make the guys understand that now we have to work even harder off the ball," he said. "Gary is the best in the game, but we can't just give him the ball and say, 'Go win the game for us.' It's going to require a total team effort."

Dennis Townsend, the Thunder's new owner, shares Tucker's concern.

"When Gary walks onto the practice field, it's like the old E. F. Hutton commercial, where everyone stops what they're doing," said Townsend. "He's that good."

The question is: How good is the Thunder?

Last season, the Thunder showed some improvement but still floundered to a 2-8 record and missed qualifying for the playoffs for the fourth straight year. Despite his team's dismal mark and postseason absence, Tucker maintains that he was proud of the team's effort.

"Last year, we were in almost every game," said the second-year coach. "Even though our record didn't indicate it, we made a lot of progress and we learned the style we need to play to be successful."

Learning the nuances of the indoor game has been a long and often painful experience for the Thunder, a team that has been scrutinized because it is based in an area that is a hotbed of collegiate field lacrosse.

Tim Hormes, one of three eight-year players on the Thunder roster, took his share of lumps in the MILL and is eager to start dishing them out in the NLL.

"We've always been missing a big-time scorer and now we have one, so I'm especially optimistic about this season," said Hormes, alluding to Gait, a seven-time All-Pro and three-time MVP. "This is our year."

In addition to Gait, a Baltimore resident who asked to be traded from the Philadelphia Wings, the Thunder returns a number of capable scorers, including veterans Hormes, Paul Cantabene, Kip Fulks, Jeff Klodzen and Bob Martino.

The Thunder further bolstered its attack by drafting Matt Shearer (Loyola College) and Doug Knight (Virginia) and claiming Chris Panos from the defunct Boston Blazers.

Defensively, the Thunder will rely on Tony Millon, John Tillman and Dan Radebaugh to take some of the pressure off second-year goalie Derek Collins.

"The sky is the limit for us," said Radebaugh. "Even before Gary got here, we felt good about our chances this year.

"We've always had one of the fastest and most athletic teams in the league, and now we have a legitimate superstar. With that combination, if we play up to our potential, we should definitely make the playoffs. After that, anything can happen."

Pub Date: 1/02/98

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