Forecasting seasons give coaches food for thought Local coaches at luncheon agree: Coppin's Mitchell will have roughest road

October 31, 1998|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

An article in yesterday's Sports section incorrectly reported the status of Navy basketball player Laurie Coffey. Now a senior, she will be with the team this season.

The Sun regrets the errors.

For about three hours yesterday, men's and women's coaches at seven of the area's Division I colleges gathered, forecasting positive outcomes for the coming season, a brief respite from their preparations for it.

"This actually is a relaxed atmosphere compared to when you get back to your office and you have to start working again," Towson men's coach Mike Jaskulski said of yesterday's Baltimore Basketball Topoff Luncheon at the Holiday Inn on Security Boulevard.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The coach who got the most attention was Fang Mitchell of Coppin State, whose Eagles have a giant-killer reputation after upsetting South Carolina in the 1997 NCAA tournament. He was the target of several zingers related to his team's tough nonconference schedule, which features no home games.

"We're not quite suicidal, Fang," said Mount St. Mary's men's coach Jim Phelan, whose nonconference schedule features road trips to Villanova, Georgia Tech and Santa Clara. "I admire your courage."

With the Coppin State athletic department in need of cash, the men's basketball program is answering the call with road "guarantee" games.

By playing at Fresno State, Iowa, Kansas State, Oklahoma and New Mexico in the first 50 days of the season, the school will raise approximately $300,000.

Mitchell said that while the schedule may border on "an overkill situation," he hopes it will make his team tougher in the long run and help in assimilating the six new players he has this year.

"With 26,000 air miles, it will help us become much more of a family because we're going to be together so much," said Mitchell, whose team went 21-7 last season and returns forward Fred Warrick. "It's all about building the team to be mature."

Coppin -- runner-up to South Carolina State in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament -- was one of three local teams that barely missed the NCAA tournament last year. The other two were the women of Loyola and Navy.

Navy women's coach Joe Sanchez saw his team win a share of the Patriot League in his fourth year in Annapolis, only to fall to Holy Cross in the finals of the conference tournament.

The Mids have yet to fail on Sanchez's goal of improvement as the win totals have gone from 16, to 19, to 23 wins last season. The team expects that trend to continue.

"[Sanchez] always said we need to set goals higher than the year before," said Navy point guard Vanessa Melofchik. "It seems like every season, we've achieved a lot of those goals and then realized that we could have done more. At the end, we wanted to go to the NCAAs, but we still had a great season."

Navy must continue to improve while changing the way they've done business the past few years. Inside players Laurie Coffey and Becky Dowling are gone along with their 27.5 points and 15.9 rebounds per game, so Sanchez says the team will be dominated more by outside players like Melofchik.

Similarly to Navy, Loyola exceeded all expectations that come from a 9-19 season in 1996-97 by winning 20 games last season. Only a loss in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference finals to Fairfield kept the Greyhounds from an NCAA appearance.

"We can only build on that," Loyola guard Corey Hewitt said. "We were successful but we didn't achieve our ultimate goal."

For most of the others in attendance, the only phrase more popular than, "Well, our schedule isn't as tough as Fang's" was "good luck." Most of the coaches and players arrived at the luncheon vague as to what others should expect of their seasons.

It was in this vein that Morgan State women's coach Darcel Estep captured the truth of the preseason.

"We're living our program in the mode of 'only time will tell,' " said Estep, who has all-MEAC selection Monique Liddell returning from a team that went 8-20. "I can't play the game for [the players], I can only teach them."

Pub Date: 10/31/98

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