Underclassmen hold key to Navy season Mids look to Savane, Skipworth, Chris Williams

November 16, 1998|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

After two straight Patriot League titles and automatic bids to the NCAA tournament, the Naval Academy has adopted a new motto this season: "It takes a team to build a dream."

"We lost a lot of our leadership by graduation," said team captain Skip Victor, the MVP in last year's conference tourney. "And you can't replace a force like Hassan Booker. No one has that kind of desire.

"That's why we'll have to stress being more of a team this year, counting on 10 or 11 players to deliver. We've got a lot of talented young guys and I think we're more athletic than last year. Every one on this team can run and score. We can pressure the opposition on both ends of the floor."

For the past two years, the success of the Midshipmen revolved around the dominant personality of Booker, who used his muscular body like a battering ram, and the three-point touch and clutch free-throw shooting of Michael Heary.

But coach Don DeVoe, starting his seventh year at Annapolis, must now rely heavily on a group of promising underclassmen.

"There's no doubt we'll have to stretch our bench this season," he said. "Last year, we gave a lot of playing time to our seniors. This year, we have only two -- Victor and [center] Josh Williams. That's why I want 11 guys who can give us 15-25 minutes of solid basketball."

Three young players who helped ignite a late-season push to the league title last winter will be counted on to contribute far more this season -- sophomore point guard Reggie Skipworth, sophomore small forward Chris Williams and junior power forward Sitapha Savane.

Skipworth played in only seven regular-season games last year after being elevated from the junior varsity, but showed DeVoe enough to earn the starting job this season.

"He has the skill and size to lead this team," said DeVoe. "We struggled last year against teams that applied full-court pressure. Skipworth will be tested early.

"When we lost two of our seniors -- Josh Height and Mike Palumbo -- to injury early last year, it allowed Savane and Chris Williams to play key minutes and they took advantage of the opportunity."

Savane, who will miss the first two games because of Academy rules violations, made his physical presence (6 feet 8, 229 pounds) felt in a hurry. The native of Senegal averaged 5.4 points and 4.4 rebounds and blocked 38 shots in 17 minutes of action. He was named to the All-Rookie and All-Tournament teams.

Chris Williams is the Mids' most explosive weapon, a 6-4 slasher who can beat his defender to the basket with a lightning first step.

Heavily recruited by most of the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference schools as an All-American pass receiver coming out of Benedictine Academy in Savannah, he opted to play basketball at Navy.

"Chris finished with a flurry last year," said DeVoe. "He's a lot like Booker. He plays with an attitude. He just hates losing."

Williams worked in the off-season to add a medium-range jumper to his offensive arsenal.

"I expect teams will be sloughing off on me, looking for the drive," he said. "I'll have to hit the open jumper more consistently."

The biggest question mark on the team -- literally and figuratively -- remains 6-11 Josh Williams, who has puzzled DeVoe the past three years.

"Josh showed flashes last year of being a dominant player in the league," said the coach, recalling his 32-point, 10-rebound effort against Lehigh.

"He runs the floor as well as any guard, let alone center and is outstanding on defense. If he can continue to improve offensively and stay out of foul trouble, we'll be a much better ball club."

Reluctant to take a pivotal role in the past, Josh Williams seems determined to leave a mark in his final season.

"I'm really psyched up this year," said the Michigan native. "I've worked on all my post-up moves to improve my scoring. But the biggest thing is helping to provide some leadership on the floor."

DeVoe plans on getting the ball inside to Savane, Josh Williams and lanky 6-10 sophomore Mike Cunningham, who has impressed his teammates with his quick moves around the hoop.

"We're not favored to win the Patriot League this year," said Victor. "Teams will look past us, but that will work to our advantage. Before the end of the year, we're going to surprise a lot of people."

Pub Date: 11/16/98

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