The Western Maryland men's basketball team will try to rebound from an injury-marred 1992 campaign with a strong mix of returning players and some talented newcomers.
The Green Terrors are coming off of a tough 5-19 season in which they lost three key players to injury for more than half the season. They open the 1993 season tonight at 6 against Kean College in the Frostburg Elks Invitational.
"First of all, we have to be injury-free," said Western Maryland coach Nick Zoulias. "We'll also need the young people to mesh in with the veterans. We're asking them to take on a responsibility they haven't been called on to do before, but I expect them to do so."
It all starts with senior forward Rolando Welch, who was healthy all season, averaging 19.4 points and finishing second in Division III in rebounding at 13.3.
The 6-foot-3 co-captain, an NCAA Basketball Preview Division III Middle Atlantic Region Player to Watch, did it all for the Green Terrors in 1992, also leading the team in blocks (43) and steals (44). In the team's five wins, his scoring and rebounding averages were 22.6 points and 15.8 rebounds -- including a 36-point, 21-rebound effort against Gettysburg.
Zoulias is expecting even more from Welch this season.
"He's certainly our primary focus coming in as a preseason All-America and being the second-leading rebounder in Division III last year," he said. "We're hoping he'll be able to elevate his game even more from last year, and there's no reason not to expect that."
Stopping Welch also will be the main focus of every opponent the Green Terrors see this season. His ability to fight off double-teams and find open teammates will be a big key.
"He's going to attract a lot of attention, so our high and low players are going to have to be alert," said Zoulias. "[Welch] is a good passer and we have others who can score."
The supporting cast is led by a solid backcourt of junior co-captain Pat Young and senior Jimmy Naughton.
The 6-0 Young averaged 13.1 points last season at shooting guard and showed the ability to take over a game when hot.
"He's a definite go-to guy for us," Zoulias said. "We're going to need steady play from him. He's worked very hard over the summer, going to a number of basketball camps, and looks very good."
Naughton started half the 1992 season at point guard with now-graduated Scott Lyon in and out of the lineup because of injuries. Donte Abrom, a 5-6 freshman who can push the ball up in a hurry, also should see time at the point.
Joining Welch up front is sophomore Jeff Daniels, a solid contributor last year as a sixth man who will start at power forward. Junior Andy Dziengeleski returns and will share time with Mel Brennan and Tom Shaffer at small guard.
Junior Tony Jenkins, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, can play small forward and big guard, as can junior returnee Mark Steele, who might be the team's best pure shooter.
The Green Terrors were picked to finish last in the Centennial Conference's West Division in a poll of the conference's coaches taken earlier in the month.
Franklin & Marshall, which has appeared in the Division III NCAA tournament the past eight years, is the favorite to win the five-team division.
"It's a very tough conference, one of the most competitive in the country," Zoulias said.
"F & M is picked to win the thing. They lost just one player and have six guys 6-5 or bigger. Hopkins also will be tough."