Towson a 2nd home, with repairs needed

Basketball: New Tigers coach Michael Hunt has been this way before, but the team was riding a wave of success then

now it's treading water.

College Basketball

November 16, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Four letters spell out the strength of Michael Hunt's family ties, which will be stretched while he tries to make Towson University a force in men's basketball again.

UCLA.

An assistant at Towson when it made successive trips to the NCAA tournament in 1990 and '91, Hunt returned to find a program that had won less than a third of its games in the previous five years. The Tigers are picked to finish last in their inaugural season in the Colonial Athletic Association.

At Georgia, Hunt, 40, felt as content as a Division I assistant can. He worked in the Southeastern Conference, 90 miles from his hometown in Macon, where his parents were "built-in baby-sitters" for his two children.

Don't underestimate Hunt's attachment to his family. In 1979, he captained Southwest Macon High to a mythical national prep championship.

Terry Truax, who would be his first boss at Towson, recruited him for Colorado, but when one of the Buffaloes' assistants joined Larry Brown's new staff at UCLA, the Bruins made a run at Hunt.

"I was just getting ready to sign a letter of intent with Furman," Hunt said of the South Carolina school that was a four-hour drive for his parents. "I had made a commitment and stuck with it. UCLA was always my dream school, but my parents wanted me to stay close to home."

Twenty-five years as an assistant coach had taken Hunt to a peach of a job in Georgia, but he had happy memories of Towson, where the Tigers won big and his children, Ashley and Austin, were born at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

Hunt moved on to Fordham in 1992, a few days after he watched the Towson lacrosse team in a titanic struggle with Johns Hopkins. The day after he was hired by Towson last April, Hunt saw the Tigers tangle with Hopkins in another one-goal game.

Those Towson lacrosse teams were coming off a final four or heading there. Similar symmetry is Hunt's mission, but he isn't naive about the work ahead.

He was on campus when football coach Phil Albert had a public budget battle with the Towson administration and is aware of the funding fights waged by Truax.

When Hunt assisted Truax, the Tigers had the showcase arena in the East Coast Conference and talent such as Kurk Lee and Devin Boyd, Baltimoreans who didn't back down from NCAA top seeds Oklahoma and Ohio State.

Now the Tigers have their fourth affiliation in less than a decade, and while the CAA should offer stability, the short term could be shaky.

The Towson Center isn't as gleaming as some newer, larger arenas in the CAA, where the powers include George Mason, which scared Maryland in the NCAAs in March. Towson's best known player is another local, but Tamir Goodman is known more for his faith than his ability to feed the post.

Towson has gone 46-95 over the previous five seasons, a skid that began in Truax's final year and one that Mike Jaskulski couldn't steer it out of.

"More than Towson becoming bad, I think the teams that we compete against made more of a commitment to basketball," said Hunt, who will make his head coaching debut tomorrow against Coppin State in the Battle of Baltimore at Loyola's Reitz Arena.

The Towson Center is still a fine place to play, with that rarest of perks for the Baltimore basketball fan: easy parking.

The competition in the CAA will be stiffer, but if Towson had stayed in America East, where the road trips included Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, Hunt would have been more inclined to accept an offer from Florida A&M in Tallahassee, near the hometown of his wife, Sonja.

Then there is Hunt's education, which includes several higher degrees in recruiting.

Besides Truax, Hunt has worked for Pat Kennedy at Florida State, Nick Macarchuk at Fordham Kevin O'Neill at Tennessee and Ron Jirsa and Jim Harrick at Georgia. He has wooed teen-age boys from New York to Memphis to Florida, from big-city playgrounds and small-town backgrounds.

"When I got here, Michael personally knew every guy in the state of Georgia that I mentioned," Harrick said. "He can evaluate talent and doggedly go after it."

The Tigers graduated one of their best players, Brian Barber, and their only other inside force, Shaun Holtz, transferred to Mississippi, but their roster may rebound.

Guard Jamal Gilchrist transferred in after two seasons at Texas A&M and will become eligible next season. His new teammates will include Jacob McCartney, a 6-foot-10, 210-pound center from Oak Ridge, Tenn., who signed a letter of intent this week to attend Towson.

Calvin Dotson, an All-Metro wing at Dunbar who spent a year at a junior college in Michigan, committed during the search for Jaskulski's replacement. Keon Blanks, an undersize small forward from a junior college in Oklahoma, came in late August. Tony Dixon is a slender, 6-10 freshman forward from New Jersey.

A bigger project is Derrick Goode, the 7-footer from Archbishop Spalding who shed 85 pounds during a redshirt year.

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