Coppin's rise adds up, but a deduction looms

College basketball: Religious obligations faced by Kelvin Green, one of the major players in the Eagles' renewal, could pose a problem in the team's NCAA bid.

March 10, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

RICHMOND, Va. - A year ago, Coppin State's men were in the midst of rebounding from their worst basketball season ever in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference under coach Fang Mitchell.

With an 11-7 regular-season league record, the Eagles finished tied for fourth with Florida A&M before losing to the Rattlers, 55-53, in the tournament quarterfinals on Demarcus Wilkins' game-winning buzzer-beater.

The Eagles were a young team on the brink of restoring the school's glory days, but, ironically, might have fully arrived then.

On the bench in civilian clothes were two Philadelphia natives, Kelvin Green and Nicholas King, awaiting their turns to wear the blue and gold.

Green had been red-shirted after breaking a bone in his left foot the previous summer and King was a non-qualifier, ineligible academically.

"We would have had a pretty good team," said the coach.

But Mitchell had them both in uniform this season. The presence of Green and King - the logical successor to All-MEAC swingman Jimmy Boykin - has boosted Coppin into familiar territory, a tie for the regular-season title with South Carolina State.

So, Coppin, seeded second, should be feeling pretty good about its chances of returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1997, when it scored the biggest victory in the program's history, an upset of sixth-ranked South Carolina, before suffering a heartbreaking loss to Texas and just missing the Sweet 16.

That would normally be the case, but there is a snag in the picture. Green is a devout Seven-Day Adventist, a religion that forbids him from playing on the Sabbath from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday.

The situation has obliged him to miss all or parts of seven games this season.

One look at the MEAC tournament schedule throws a jolt into the Eagles' hopes. If they defeat Morgan State tonight, they would play in the semifinals Friday starting at 6 p.m., just a few minutes before the sun is scheduled to set.

Then, if they make it to Saturday's final, game time is noon, meaning Green would not be available again.

"We'll just have to play through this thing and see what happens," Mitchell said. "Kelvin is from a really good family and that is the family religion. We'll just have to make adjustments."

"This definitely is a big problem since we ended up second [seeded]," said Green. "We had a lot of 4 p.m. games this year on the road when I could only play second halves."

Green, a muscular 6 feet 5 and 210 pounds, did not play in the season finale at Morgan State last Friday, but the Eagles prevailed anyway, 68-60.

But his omission from the lineup for the tournament could be a major setback.

At Perkiomen School in Pennsylvania, Green ranked second in the Philadelphia area with a 27.9 scoring average and also had 15.4 rebounds a game as a senior. Over four years, he scored 2,283 points, the sixth-highest total in area history.

"It was a real unbalanced league," said Green. "The other teams weren't very tough."

Nonetheless, his abilities have transferred well to the Division I level. Operating normally as the first player off the Eagles' bench, Green has averaged 12.4 points and 4.3 rebounds as a freshman.

King, 6-7, named a captain as a sophomore and a starter most of the season, spent one year at Milford Academy in Connecticut after helping Frankfort High in northeast Philadelphia to a 25-2 record as a senior.

"I came to Coppin because it wasn't too far from home and a lot of my friends from Philly were here," he said.

"He shoots well because he's big and can shoot over people," said Mitchell of King. "He can penetrate and has really improved defensively. Naming him captain tells you what I think of him."

King has averaged 10.6 points and 4.2 rebounds for a team that thrives primarily with tough defense.

So, Coppin is re-equipped with the talent it needs for a charge at the championship. But without Green for its two biggest showdowns, the road to the trophy has a few dangerous curves.

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