In Morgan's books, rarest letter is `W'

Basketball: The bad news on the Bears: Both men's and women's teams are still winless. The good news: No one's given up.

College Basketball

January 12, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

When the Morgan State basketball teams take the court at Hill Field House today against the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, both will be striving to end a half-season's worth of deprivation.

Neither the men nor the women have won, and if the pattern continues, the school could be threatened with a dubious distinction - becoming only the second in NCAA history to have both teams go winless in a season.

Ten years ago, such a famine struck at the Southwestern Athletic Conference's Prairie View A&M in Texas, where the men suffered through an 0-28 season and the women went 0-26.

Morgan obviously doesn't want to equal such a feat, and since its teams have completed their pre-league, meat-grinder schedules, they are hopeful that a return to a steady diet of Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opponents will end the losing trend.

Still, the combined 27 consecutive losses - many of them on the road against well-stocked, big-time teams - have left a mark.

"It's just really frustrating," said women's forward Chanelle Scott, a senior and one of the squad's top players. "We're hanging together and trying to do things to make some changes but it's hard to keep your head up sometimes."

"We're still pretty confident," said All-MEAC preseason pick Curtis King of the men's team. "We know the staff is doing everything possible to get that win. We've just got to keep working hard and not give up."

First-year men's coach Butch Beard, who missed the prime recruiting period after being hired in late July, said he believes his team "is a little bit closer" to a victory. "I'm not going to give up on them. It's tough knowing how to win when you haven't won on a consistent basis."

"Basically, he inherited the family," said King of Beard, whose qualifications are eminent: A stellar guard with Wes Unseld at Louisville. Ten seasons as an NBA player. Head coaching and assistant coaching experience in the NBA. MEAC Coach of the Year during five years at Howard.

The men - 0-13 this season with 14 straight losses overall - today encounter the last school they defeated. The Bears' last win was over UMES, 76-64, in the league tournament last March.

That was under coach Chris Fuller, who was dismissed after his team posted a 6-23 record. He's now teaching at Towson High School after six seasons at Morgan.

Fuller, of course, knows firsthand how tough it is to win at Morgan, where the past includes a national Division II title in 1974, with Marvin Webster leading the way, but only one winning season since 1979 and none since rejoining the MEAC in 1984.

"It's sad and I certainly do feel bad about what's happening," said Fuller. "It's not easy for the kids and coaches. We were always fortunate to win a couple of games early while I was there and that can relieve some of the pressure."

The men have flirted with victory several times, but a two-point loss to crosstown rival Coppin State on a last-second shot in the second game seems to have a residual effect.

In their last outing, a 74-68 setback to Canisius at home Wednesday, the Bears typically played well in spots and led by four with five minutes to play before crashing down the stretch.

"If we had more consistency, we could be close to .500," said King. "We have a lot of dry spells where we get stuck on a number for long periods. We just don't play the full 40 minutes."

"The way to get the monkey off our backs is to continue to work hard and play smart, aggressive basketball," said Beard. "I've talked to them a lot about doing things with urgency and they don't quite understand."

Beard's late hiring left him unfamiliar with his current personnel and unable to recruit players who could supplement holdovers King, Reggie Winkfield, Randy Dukes, Brandon Reece, Cedrick Barrow and Cory McNeil.

"I never saw what these guys looked like until I walked on campus," said the coach. "We're now where everybody else started Oct. 15. I'm trying to program and de-program at the same time."

Despite its lack of success, the program has traditionally been the best draw among the local colleges. For MEAC games, Morgan is a happening.

"There were always packed houses for the league," said former center Michael Canady, who completed his eligiblity last year. "The students were always supportive and you can't get caught up in the hype of the fans."

"It's really disheartening," added Chris Watson, who played two years for Fuller, then served as an assistant coach and is now living in California. "Morgan's been struggling for years and I believe it's because there is more support externally than internally.

"It's hard on kids to bounce back. You get kind of used to losing. After a while, the moral-victory speech becomes a pain."

"It gets demoralizing to have to go play all those big schools," said Fuller. "Some teams can recover from that for the MEAC, some can't. The psyche is different. It's hard to tell whether this one will, but I think they will. Butch is a good coach."

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