Looking rosy, still blooming

Almost 10 years since a Baltimore men's team made the NCAAs, there are reasons for optimism

College Basketball 2006

State Men

November 03, 2006|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun reporter

Towson has a coach who was one win away from the Final Four in 1993. That year, Morgan State's new boss had a Sweet 16 team.

Loyola's rotation relies on veterans who began their college careers in the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East.

Coppin State remains a national name. There's no reason UMBC can't rule its conference and ...

For all the excited talk about the local men's scene, here's the reality: The five Division I schools have combined to produce four winning teams in the new millennium, and if no one gets it done next March, this would be the 10th straight season without a Baltimore squad in the NCAA tournament.

Towson went in 1990 and '91, Loyola in 1994 and Coppin's third trip was the charm, as the 15th-seeded Eagles were a basket from a historic Sweet 16 appearance in 1997.

Since then, even conference tournament wins have been rare. What in the world of Juan Dixon and Will Thomas gives?

The area's premier talent usually leaves home, and some programs have struggled to find the right coach or conference, but there is reason for the optimism around town. The status of the NCAA aspirations of the five, in order of increasing legitimacy, follows.

Between 1998 and 2003, UMBC moved from the Big South Conference to the Northeast to the New England-based America East Conference. The Retrievers arrived just as Vermont and Taylor Coppenrath were taking over, and have gone 14-38 in their new conference.

Randy Monroe has slick sophomore guard Jay Greene and four other regulars back from an eighth-place team, and recruits such as Justin Fry, a 6-foot-9 left-hander whose body needs to catch up to his skills. The best player on campus may be Darryl Proctor, a Coppin transfer who's sitting out.

Morgan State's Todd Bozeman is a college coach for the first time since 1996, when a payola scandal got him fired from California. Over the past decade, while Bozeman was out of college coaching, Morgan went 85-200.

"I'm not approaching this with a three-year plan," Bozeman said of the massive building job he's begun.

Morgan bears little resemblance to the team that finished 4-26 and in the basement of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, as a remade roster includes five freshmen and transfers Jerrel Green, Jamar Smith and Boubacar Coly.

At California, Bozeman coached Jason Kidd. In two of his previous four stops, Towson's Pat Kennedy recruited the likes of Sam Cassell (Florida State) and Quentin Richardson (DePaul).

Kennedy has an intriguing lineup that could be the best in Baltimore, but he's also got the toughest road to maneuver.

Will the rising tide of the Colonial Athletic Association lift Towson's ship? George Mason, Hofstra and UNC-Wilmington are stacked CAA rivals coming this winter to the Towson Center, where a four-guard lineup will feature Gary Neal, who averaged 26.1 points last season.

The Calvert Hall grad's running mates include two underclassmen from Walbrook, Rocky Coleman and Rodney Spruill.

In the Charles Street race to become "Baltimore's team," Loyola's Jimmy Patsos has added junior guard Gerald Brown to a transfer-heavy core that figures to be a factor in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

Brown, a top producer on a perfect Douglass High team in 2001-02, started at Providence, center Hassan Fofana began at Maryland, and point forward Omari Isreal comes in from Notre Dame.

Brown is too young to remember the Greyhounds' 1994 version of Cinderella, but he is familiar with Baltimore's most recent NCAA foray. In the winter of 1996-97, after his day at Mount Royal Middle School, Brown would tag along with his mother, Pamela, who took a night course at Coppin State.

"I'd go to the Coppin Center and watch practice," Brown said. "They had a real good guard named [Antoine] Brockington; he was always calm."

Delaware State has become the program to beat in the MEAC, but anyone who overlooks Coppin State is a fool. The Eagles added four good-looking recruits to 10 players from an undersized team that went 12-6 in conference play, and they have stability that is rare in these parts.

While the coaches at the four other Baltimore programs enter this season with a combined six full seasons on the job, Fang Mitchell is beginning his third decade at Coppin State.

"I can't wait to get back to the tournament," Mitchell said, in a manner more wistful than guarantee. "Wouldn't that be nice?"

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

Division II, III

Look for preview capsules for state Division II and Division III men's and women's basketball teams in the Nov. 16 Sports section.

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