Coppin hits road for games, money

UMES and Morgan also begin this week

College Basketball


Coppin State men's basketball coach Fang Mitchell is nothing if not jocular on the subject of his team's yearly cross-country journey, which began early yesterday morning and amounts to a six-week fundraiser for the school's athletic department.

Mitchell, also the school's athletic director, wouldn't reveal how much the Eagles (14-15 last season) would raise from playing their first 14 games on the road, beginning with tonight's 8 o'clock game against Charlotte in the first round of the BCA Invitational in Laramie, Wyo.

"I've yet to give an exact figure - it's under a half-million and more than $100,000," Mitchell said of what the team stands to reap by going through a slate of 11 guarantee games highlighted by 2005 Final Four teams Michigan State and Illinois.

But he's hoping to be frugal while getting the cash. For instance, the school will be flying out of Reagan National Airport instead of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

"They had the better price," he said of the choice. "We have to make the money work for us."

Two fellow members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Morgan State and UMES, begin their seasons this week with similar tournaments.

The Bears (14-16) open against host Washington tonight at 8 in the BCA Classic in Seattle, and the Hawks (2-26) start with Iowa tomorrow night at 8:30 in one bracket of the Guardians Classic in Iowa City, Iowa.

UMES coach Larry Lessett is excited to return to the state where he lived for five years before moving to Princess Anne in 2004, though he hopes that his team will be a tougher opponent than it was during his first season.

Much of the second-year coach's optimism comes from a pair of reedy freshman forwards, Qavotstaraj Waddell (6 feet 11, 240 pounds) and Brandon Moore (6-9, 195). The team's best player from last season, forward Tim Parham, also returns after a brief dalliance with the NBA draft.

With 10 new players, "I look at it as my first year," Lessett said. "That's the way we've approached it. I want to look at every game as a building block. It's easier when you win."

Less chipper is Butch Beard, who enters his fifth year at Morgan State with an opener against a team that reached the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 last season.

The Bears face the Huskies with two returning starters - sophomore guard Timothy Mathis and junior forward Timothy Berkley - and not much else.

"We're going up without an exhibition game under our belts, against one of the top programs in the country," Beard said. "That's probably not the way to do it with a young and inexperienced team."

After three games in the BCA Classic, the team will fly to Miami for a Saturday game against the Hurricanes.

With a pre-conference schedule that also includes Seton Hall and Florida, Beard hopes for the best but acknowledges the task of having to build the team mentally after possible defeats.

"My job is to make sure that these kids aren't falling apart," he said. "When teams get humiliated, it takes two or three weeks for them to think they can play at this level again."

At Coppin State, the Eagles find few minuses. The opportunity to play at a place like Kentucky's Rupp Arena last season or UCLA's Pauley Pavilion next month is an attraction for mid-level recruits, and the games prepare the team for the MEAC schedule and the conference tournament.

"If they get beaten up, they'll toughen up," Mitchell said.

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