Coppin finds Beltway is lonely road

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Fang Mitchell knows what he wants for Christmas.

He's not asking for a lot, but Mitchell, Coppin State's basketball coach, doesn't expect to get it. At least not for a while.

What he wants is some games. That's all.

He wants some basketball games for Coppin with the other colleges in and around Baltimore.

Look at Fang's schedule.

Towson State is not on it, though it was for the past two seasons. Coppin won both times, at home and away. Now Coppin is off.

UMBC is not on the schedule. Neither is Loyola College. Even the University of Maryland is not on it, though it once was.

Once. That's exactly how many times Maryland played Fang Mitchell's team. Coppin won, 70-63, at College Park early in the 1989-90 season.

"Wasn't Maryland's program down at that point?" a visitor asked Fang yesterday.

"Down!" said Mitchell, almost shrieking. "With three guys who went in the NBA [Walt Williams, Jerrod Mustaf and Tony Massenburg]? I'd like to be down like that!"

No wonder Coppin can't get back on Maryland's schedule.

Morgan State is the only local school playing Coppin, but they're members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

With none of the other so-called Beltway schools playing Coppin, look at the teams that are on the schedule this year:

Oklahoma, St. John's, Kansas, Missouri, Kansas State. All on the road, of course.

Tonight Coppin plays at Louisiana State. Then the team is in a tournament at Michigan State Dec. 29-30.

Going against competition like that, it's no surprise that the best college team in the Baltimore area has a 1-5 record.

The Eagles won their home opener last Saturday over Bowie State, 99-67. They're not at home again until Jan. 14 against Delaware State.

What's the problem? Why are all these schools ducking Fang's Gang?

Gee, how smart do you have to be to figure that out? Obviously, they don't want to lose to them.

"All those schools know Fang Mitchell's phone number," says the 46-year-old coach, who is in his ninth season at Coppin. "I've written every one of them asking for a game and there's been no response."

Is it simply because they fear losing to a little school on North Avenue?

"If they did lose to us, so what?" Fang asks earnestly. "It's only a game.

"It's more a matter of perception. A lot of places may perceive that their institutions have higher academic standards than ours. It's not the coaches who feel that way. It's people like the presidents and the alumni.

"Our school is a member of the University of Maryland system. We go by the same rules and regulations as everybody else. The main difference is we have less money to do it with."

Question: If Coppin is on a limited budget, why is it flying all over the country to play at places like Oklahoma and LSU?

"Everybody thinks we go away to get the visiting team's $H guarantee but we don't," Fang says. (Coppin's guarantee tonight is in excess of $30,000.) "That money doesn't go to my team. It goes in the general fund."

The guarantee pays for Coppin's travel, but even then Mitchell does a clever job of cost saving.

"I know how to work the numbers," he says. "When we flew to Oklahoma, the cost of a ticket was $428. But early last summer I worked a deal to get an early companion ticket [two tickets] for $442. I get us good deals with hotels, too. I could be a travel agent.

"We play teams in major conferences because we're not content just to be a Beltway school. We have our sights on national recognition. We want our players to find out if they can play with the best."

And does Mitchell want to find out if he can coach with the best, such as Dale Brown tonight?

"I already know that," he says. "I know I can."

The comment was merely an expression of confidence by a coach who in the past five years has taken his team to the NCAA tournament twice and to the NIT once.

Still, Mitchell wants to change perceptions at home. He has a plan that he feels would create interest at all the local schools.

"You can't get interest going," he says, "unless the local teams play each other. I even drew up a four-year schedule with the two MEAC schools [Coppin and Morgan] playing doubleheaders at the Baltimore Arena with the Big South schools [Towson and UMBC].

"One night last winter Towson and Loyola played before 2,000 people, while we played before 6,000 at Morgan. Play a doubleheader like that at the Arena and you'd have something.

"I'm from Philadelphia and I remember the Big Five sellouts at the Palestra. There's no reason why we can't have something like that going here."

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