Everybody's in mix for 13-7 UMBC

`No-names' crucial to Retrievers' rise

February 06, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

It has been a fallow season for most local men's college basketball teams, but UMBC is still reaping its share of victories.

With a sterling sophomore class that includes former New York City high school Player of the Year Peter Mulligan, 6-foot-9 Will McClurkin and all-purpose swingman Ron Yates, and a highly regarded transfer guard in Malik Wallace, the Retrievers were expected to be strong title contenders in the Northeast Conference.

And, as the field swings into the homestretch in the league races, UMBC (13-7 overall, 9-4 NEC) is the lone Baltimore-area team with a winning record and seems to have the best shot to make the NCAA tournament.

Coppin State, Morgan State, Towson and Loyola are all having down seasons.

While UMBC's bigger names have struggled to maintain consistency and discipline, it is the no-names on this roster who have flourished in coach Tom Sullivan's "every position is up for grabs" system.

"All the youngsters are aware that they are in a competitive program and that they're competing to make sure they maintain their starting positions," said Sullivan. "The starters know that if they don't have a good game, they won't start."

This policy has provided fertile ground for backups to have their shining moments and, at times, to work their way into the opening lineup.

Not one returning player - not even Mulligan, the conference Rookie of the Year last season - has started every game for a school that lost its fourth all-time leading scorer (Terence Ward), its top all-time rebounder (Kennedy Okafor) and the steadying influence of forward Brad Martin.

That distinction belongs to a freshman point guard, Rob Gogerty, the last player signed last year by Sullivan.

Rob who?

"Coming in here, I didn't see myself playing this many minutes," said Gogerty, a native of Cedar Grove, N.J., who arrived at UMBC with a shooter's reputation, started early at shooting guard, but is now the primary ball-handler.

"I've been kind of surprised, but I take it as a challenge to get better. I'm not really making a lot of mistakes."

That fact is what has endeared him to Sullivan, who uses last year's point guard, Justin Wilson, to come off the bench with a spark.

"He came a lot quicker than we ever thought," said the coach. "He brings a lot of stability to the No. 1 spot by taking very good care of the ball. Rob has done a good job of holding his position."

Until a victory over Fairleigh Dickinson on Jan. 28, when he committed three turnovers, Gogerty had never been responsible for more than one giveaway in any game and was averaging 0.83 a game. His assist-turnover ratio was 3.2 a game.

"I kind of wanted to take a shot at Division I ball," said Gogerty. "There were offers from Divisions II and III, but even if I sat on the bench I wanted to try [Division] I. Sure, starting every game is a surPrise, because we've used so many different starting lineups."

Conversely, another no-name, Andre Williams, has not started a single game and is averaging about seven minutes. But without him, the Retrievers would be closer to the ranks of the sub-.500 teams in town.

The solidly built 260-pounder rescued the team with 11 rebounds in a victory over Detroit (perhaps the biggest in school history), hit the game-winning basket in a road win over defending NEC champ Monmouth and scored 15 points in a triumph over Long Island.

"We messed up and lost the first game [59-58 to Santa Clara in the Cable Car Classic] before we played Detroit, so we had a meeting among the players to talk about why we weren't jelling," said Williams. "That meeting sparked us.

"We realized we had the talent and that everyone could contribute if they fed off each other and knew their roles."

Williams' role is to be one of the "Wolves," the nickname redshirt sophomore Kareem Washington gave to the-then second five of himself, Wilson, Williams, Ron Yates and Eugene Young. Their personnel fluctuates, but they are always expected to howl.

"It's just a few of us who come off the bench for a spark. We talk to each other and say, `All right, it's time to let the Wolves out of the cage,' " said Washington.

Although he has started only once, Washington has compiled the fourth-highest number of minutes, because he rates among the NEC leaders in shooting and is a strong defender.

"I expected to pick up a block [of time] at a time, but anything can happen here," Washington added. "It's not always the most athletic or even the most deserving who are in the game, but the players coach thinks can help him win."

Washington, a member of a state-champion high school team, is another New York-area player who wanted to get away from home. That area dominates the Retrievers' roster.

"Here, you have to expect the unexpected," he said. "There might be a new starting five every game. You can't sit back and think, `This is mine.' We have some of the toughest practices of anybody, and sometimes the second team blows out the first.

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