With his team sporting a not-so-appealing 0-12 record after nearly two months on the road, first-year Morgan State coach Michael Holmes ponders the questions being asked as the Bears prepare to play their first home game of the season against Maryland Eastern Shore tonight at Hill Field House.
"They want to know are we a bad team, are we a good team, are we an organized team, and do we know what we're doing," Holmes said. "They want to know whether Coach Holmes can coach, or whether he's a joke. Everyone wants to see what we look like -- and I think they're going to like what they see."
That remains to be seen. The Bears are one of four Division I basketball teams without a victory (Chicago State, Marist and Illinois State are the others). After a marathon road trip to nine states, the Bears are hoping to end their losing streak at Hill Field House, where they play their next four games.
"It feels good being home and -- even though we're 0-12 -- we still feel pretty confident getting to play at Morgan," said sophomore forward Glenn Smith. "It's been real tough, but we had to do what the schedule called for. We couldn't do anything about it."
The early-season losses were plentiful and predictable for a first-year coach trying to rebuild a team that had two of its best players transfer after an 8-20 season. Playing with a tremendous height disadvantage (only two Morgan players are taller than 6 feet 6), the Bears have lost by as few as four points (70-66 at Western Illinois Dec. 22) and as many as 57 (128-71 at New Mexico State Dec. 29).
Despite the fact that four of the losses were by more than 35 points and the team is being outscored by nearly 25 points an outing (Morgan is scoring 65.8, and allowing 90.6), Holmes has been able to keep his team in a positive frame of mind.
"We didn't have any problems with morale, and nobody really got down," said Holmes, who was an assistant coach at Florida A&M; last season. "We were confused at times because they weren't sure what I was trying to get them to do. But they hung in there, and there's been nothing but words of encouragement for these guys."
Holmes can only be encouraging, because the program can't be in a more difficult position. Picked to finish near the top of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference last season, the Bears went 4-12 in the league and ended with an 8-20 record -- the fourth season in the past six that the team finished with fewer than 10 wins. The losing and firing of head coach Nat Frazier led two top players -- forward Jamaine Williams and center Charles Solomon -- to transfer.
Under the circumstances, Holmes knew not to set hopes too high in this rebuilding season.
"I'm a realist, so I try to stay away from concentrating on the standings," said Holmes, who played at Paine College. "My concern right now is telling my kids that as long as they're learning, that they're winning. We're a losing team on paper, but as a whole, we're winners."
The 12 defeats include conference losses at South Carolina State and North Carolina A&T.; The loss to the Aggies was by 13 points, but Holmes was encouraged when his team stayed that close after his two healthy front-line players fouled out.
"Glenn [Smith] fouled out with 12 minutes left and Raylon Adams [6-8] fouled out, and we didn't get beat that badly," Holmes said. "It did more good than harm because guys that normally don't play a lot had a chance. We learned a lot about their character."
Smith has turned out to be the best player in the early going, with a team-leading 16.5 points a game that includes a 28-point outing at New Mexico State. When 6-8 senior center Marcus Sheffield (13.5 ppg in four games) and senior James McCoy (13.1 ppg) recover from injuries, the Bears should competitive by the end of the season.
"We lost a lot of games, but the [early] games gave us confidence in playing bigger schools and competing at that level," said Smith, a City College graduate. "Some guys got down, but overall we've maintained a positive attitude. Personally, I'm just trying to play as hard as I can and do anything to help the team win."
Holmes has been pleased with Smith's early efforts.
"He's in a learning stage and I'm trying to focus on his mental capacity and urge him to be the best player he can," Holmes said. "Actually, Glenn could score about 30 points a game if he had the drive to be a player. That comes with time and motivation."
And Holmes is hoping the team has the motivation to be respectable and set a good foundation for the future. Helping him on the sidelines this year is Lynn Ramage, who is Morgan's first full-time assistant basketball coach.
"We're right on schedule," Holmes said. "Pressure? I feel no pressure because I know where we're going and what it takes to win. Right now we're laying the fundamentals and the basics down, and in the future we'll have the results."
Glad to be home
Results of Morgan State's basketball team, which will play its first home game tonight against UMES:
Date, opponent.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. result
Nov. 23, at Providence Col.*.. .. .. L, 112-74
Nov. 24, Boston University*.. .. .. .. L, 86-75
Nov. 27, at Georgia Tech ... .. .. .. .L, 87-65
Dec. 4, at Florida State.. .. .. .. .. L, 88-48
Dec. 8, at St. Bonaventure.. .. .. .. L, 94-77
Dec. 19, at Southwest Missouri.. .. .. L, 81-57
Dec. 21, vs. Northwestern**.. .. .. .. L, 74-66
Dec. 22, vs. Western Illinois**.. .. ..L, 70-66
Dec. 29, at New Mexico State.. .. .. .L, 128-71
Jan. 2, at Arkansas State.. .. .. .. . L, 88-42
Jan. 5, at South Carolina State.. .. . L, 85-68
Jan. 7, at North Carolina A&T..; .. .. .L, 93-80
*Fleet Basketball tournament in Providence, R.I.
**St. Louis Tournament in St. Louis, Mo.