Coach Fang Mitchell launched a youth movement at Coppin State last season, and it hasn't ended yet.
The Eagles will strive to leave their stamp on the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with seven new players, without a senior and with the hope that the second member of the Philadelphia Stewarts can be as effective as the first.
Coppin underwent a transition last year, finishing 15-13 during a rocky ride in which Mitchell had to call on a lot of his resources.
"It was the worst year I've ever had in terms of disciplinary problems with today's youth," said Mitchell. "It reflected their feeling that they should have a say and that, if they can't get their way, they'll find a way. But they still have to learn it's not going to be that way in the real world."
Despite the internal problems, which included suspensions of three different starters at some point, Coppin finished with a winning record, and this season should bring more of the same success -- at least in the long run.
"This team has considerable potential," said Mitchell. "It has the type of attitude that will breed success."
Coppin was chosen as low as seventh in some MEAC preseason polls, but the coach said he is not bothered by the lack of respect. "We're still going to play the same way," he said.
A lot will depend on how quickly Stephen Stewart adapts after sitting out last year. The brother of the Washington Bullets' Larry Stewart, whose determined play helped carry Coppin into the national limelight, Stewart looms as a force when he shakes off the rust.
Stewart, 6 feet 5, can play four different positions, is much more of a threat as an outside shooter than his brother and figures to have a solid impact.
Redshirted last season as a Proposition 48 player, Stewart said: "I'll play wherever I'm needed. Sometimes, I'm going to be in the post against bigger guys, and I'm working on my three-pointers, too."
Mitchell had him at point guard in practice last week.
However, that position doesn't figure to be a problem unless something happens to returnee Sidney Goodman.
"He's really playing well, and his leadership is a real plus," said the coach, who sat down his senior point man, Larry Yarbray, last season. "It's Sidney's team. He will be allowed to be successful."
Goodman's backcourt partner, Keith Carmichael, "knows what he's supposed to do," Mitchell said. That is to fill up the basket, and Carmichael is not shy about doing that.
Up front is the rock, 6-6 forward Tariq Saunders, who emerged as the best of all the Eagles last season and is stronger, bulkier and more confident.
One of Coppin's weaknesses was its shortage of muscle, but Mitchell said that problem has been rectified.
"The inside game hurt us defensively," he said. "We had lost Larry [Stewart], and we were bound to suffer last year. But we couldn't stop anybody in there because they were bigger. Strength was a real problem. Now, I think we have enough big bodies that we can compete."
Saunders and Stewart and 6-8 center Coleman Scott are throwing their weight around in practice, and some newcomers could provide some bulk on a spot basis. In addition, Galen Howard, 6-10, has flourished in practice.
Because of the shortened preseason and influx of new blood, Mitchell has been working his team overtime in practices, going double-time on weekends. Still, "we're behind right now," he said.
But the Eagles are expected to be maneuverable enough to counteract size, yet mobile enough to keep pace with speed.
"We'll evaluate as we go along. If we have to tiptoe, we'll do that," he said. "If we need to cha-cha or slow dance, we'll go that way. Whatever it takes to win."
The MEAC, which has an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for its champion, has progressed throughout the ranks, with Morgan State on a roll at the end of last season and Maryland Eastern Shore and Bethune-Cookman sure to improve.
Mitchell has added a proven winner as an assistant. Nate Blackwell, an excellent point guard for some of Temple's strongest teams and an NBA veteran, has joined the team to instruct and to help lure some of Philadelphia's finest high school talent to Coppin, something Mitchell has managed to do well on his own.
"The players respect Nate and listen to him," said Mitchell. "We were fortunate to get such an addition."
So the pipeline from Philadelphia to North Avenue figures to continue. Not that Mitchell hasn't tried closer to home.
"I just can't get the quality out of Baltimore," he said. "I keep knocking on the doors, but there aren't any answers. No question getting local kids would be a plus, but they have to be the type who can make us the kind of team I want us to be."
Coppin State at a glance
Coach: Fang Mitchell (seventh season, 101-75)
Affiliation: Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
Last year's record: 15-13, 9-7 in MEAC
Starters lost: Larry Yarbray, Darren Woods, James Mazyck
Key returnees: Tariq Saunders, Keith Carmichael, Sidney Goodman, Coleman Scott, Galen Howard
Outlook: Without a senior, the Eagles probably will require time to reach their comfort level. They are picked near the bottom in the MEAC, but that is usually fine with Mitchell. The coach is pleased with the team attitude after a stormy year in which many of his key players were disciplined. Look for Stephen Stewart to play a different style than his NBA brother, Larry, but he could be as effective over the long haul. By tournament time, opponents will have to be wary of Coppin.
@Returning players Name Yr. Pos. Ht. Wt. Fast breaks
Lennox Brown So. F 6-6 190 Mervo product played little last season
Keith Carmichael So. G 6-3 178 Excellent jump shooter
Sidney Goodman So. G 6-3 175 Shifts from shooting guard
Galen Howard Jr. C 6-10 220 Impressive in preseason, may start
Marcus Robinson So. G 6-3 175 Averaged 5.1 points in a spot role
Tariq Saunders Jr. F 6-6 217 Led in scoring, rebounds, steals
Coleman Scott Jr. C-F 6-8 242 5.8 ppg., 4.8 rpg. in half season
Kahhar Abdul-Wali Fr. G 6-1 165 Son of ex-NBA star Wali Jones
Kyle Locke Fr. G-F 6-6 185 22.5 ppg. at Phila. Roman Catholic
Cameron Nekkers Fr. G 6-1 155 Canadian outside shooter
Melvin Roberts Fr. G 5-10 175 Walk-on from Largo
Stephen Stewart So. F 6-5 233 Brother of Bullet Larry Stewart
Michael Thomas So. C-F 6-8 201 Rebounding, shot-blocking specialist
Jerry Wysinger Jr. C 6-8 245 Walk-on never played organized ball