Bowie, Moss-Kelley give mutual thanks

Californian perfect fit for title-seeking Bulldogs

March 25, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

BOWIE - He wanted to transfer to a historically black college or university in the East and, though a West Coast native, all his information pointed to Virginia Union, one of Bowie State's bitterest rivals.

Stephen Moss-Kelley was aware of Virginia Union's solid basketball reputation in NCAA Division II, particularly in the strong Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. His desire was to join a good team that had an opportunity to make some waves regionally and nationally.

He did. Bowie State.

"As a transfer student, you want to make sure you're in the right situation," said the senior forward from Oakland, Calif., who had played a season each at Eastern Washington and Grand Canyon Community College. "I was looking for a place to play, and this was my last stand."

Moss-Kelley's girlfriend had worked for the Phoenix Suns and then accepted a job with the Washington Wizards, hence his desire to change venues. He was totally unaware of Bowie, which had no history of success, but fate intervened.

"The only thing he knew was Virginia Union," said coach Luke D'Alessio, whose Bulldogs have won 49 games the past two seasons and will play Massachusetts-Lowell in Division II's round of eight tomorrow.

"But a friend of mine [Keith Veney] brought him up for a workout. It was one of those leads that you have to follow up on, one of the few that panned out. Getting Steve was pretty much luck."

"I listened to what Luke had to say and he introduced me to some of the players," said Moss-Kelley, who was staying in the D.C. area during the summer. "Luke seemed real genuine and I felt he had a lot to offer.

"It turned out to be the best move I've made and that goes way beyond basketball. All my family is out West, but everybody made me feel at home here. I have never felt homesick once."

An integral component of Bowie's rise to championships in the CIAA and South Atlantic Regional tournaments, Moss-Kelley stepped front and center in the regional title game with seven three-pointers against Presbyterian, which had packed back into a zone to neutralize Bowie big men Tim Washington and Jon Smith.

Moss-Kelley's story is replete with fascinating twists.

In his first year of eligibility, D'Alessio had not yet accumulated the frontcourt depth that has turned this team into a national contender. Washington was the only real inside force and Moss-Kelley, a natural swingman at 6 feet 6, was inserted at power forward by necessity.

Playing out of position in 2001-02, he averaged 13.8 points and eight rebounds and shot 80 percent from the foul line. He was named to the All-CIAA first team.

"He'll do anything to help you win," said D'Alessio. "He's also tremendous on defense."

"I had never played the four spot in my life," Moss-Kelley pointed out. "It meant I had to rebound, had to really focus because I was always going against guys bigger than me. But Luke gives everybody a lot of space on offense and I still led the team in three-point field goals [74]."

Comfort returned this season when Smith and Shawn Hampton came aboard to buttress the front line. Moss-Kelley is now the small forward, and he has responded with an equivalent-type season (13.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, team-leading 90 threes), although everyone's shot-attempt averages are down because of all the talent.

"It definitely was welcome," Moss-Kelley said of regaining his lifelong position. "I got tired banging around in there. There is a lot of wear and team on your body. And playing with Tim and Jon frees me up a lot because they have to pay a lot of attention to them."

Oddly, Moss-Kelley did not repeat on the All-CIAA team because of Smith, the 6-9 jamming specialist who replaced him on the league honor roll. Yet, it was Moss-Kelley who was instrumental in guiding Smith to Bowie.

"I met Jon through Keith Veney, in workouts and the summer league," Moss-Kelley said. "He [Smith] just wasn't happy at Virginia Tech and wasn't in a situation that benefited him. I could see that he was an amazing player and now the NBA is looking at him."

They have become one big, happy family under D'Alessio, who has struck a balance between adherence to his system and creative latitude for the individuals within it.

"In my opinion, to be a good college coach, you have to really get along with the players," said Moss-Kelley. "Luke does that. So many players finish their eligibility and wish they had gone somewhere else.

"What you want is to have the best time possible and perform the best you can. Luke's strength is he allows you to do that."

Moss-Kelley is both enjoying and performing.

Next for Bowie

Matchup:Bowie State (29-4) vs. Massachusetts-Lowell (28-4) in NCAA Division II national quarterfinals

Site:The Lakeland (Fla.) Center

When:Tomorrow, noon

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