North Carolina A&T;'s John Floyd, a 6-foot-6 senior, has drawn the unenviable assignment of defending Wake Forest's 6-10 center Tim Duncan in the opening game of today's NCAA East Regional at the Baltimore Arena. But he says he's just happy to be playing in the city he calls his home away from home.
Twelve days ago at Morgan State, Floyd denied Coppin State an automatic NCAA bid when his dunk with six seconds left beat the Eagles, 66-64, in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament championship.
"A lot of great things have happened here for me and the Aggies the last two years," said the North Carolina native, who leads his team in scoring (17.3) and field-goal percentage (.586) and is second in rebounding (5.5).
"Last year, we beat South Carolina State in the MEAC finals at the Baltimore Arena. This year, it figured we'd have to beat Coppin State to repeat. Our new coach [Roy Thomas] wouldn't even let us go to the pre-tourney banquet. He wanted us to keep focused on our mission."
The final seconds of the Coppin State game are engraved in Floyd's memory.
"I saw [Keith] Carmichael miss the jumper, and, as soon as I saw Phil Allen grab the rebound, I raced downcourt. Phil got caught in the air between Carmichael and [Sidney] Goodman, but he made a great behind-the-back pass.
"I just picked it up and slammed it home. The crowd was so noisy, I wasn't sure I beat the buzzer."
Floyd has made a habit of hitting game-winning shots. In February, his short jumper with two seconds left beat Maryland-Eastern Shore, 70-68. And he had four three-pointers in a 29-point performance as the Aggies beat North Carolina Central, 93-87.
An all-state selection at Carver High in Winston-Salem, Floyd received scholarship offers from Colorado and East Tennessee. But when he failed to qualify under the NCAA's Proposition 48 guidelines, he was left with three options -- attend junior college, play for a Division II or III school or sit out a year at a Division I school.
"I thought of going to a JuCo school, but I wanted to play more than two years at a major college," he said. "My sisters persuaded me to investigate Carolina A&T;, and I found out they won a number of MEAC championships. That convinced me."
Since sitting out his freshman year, Floyd has played for three coaches. His sophomore year the coach was Don Corbett, who retired unexpectedly.
"It came as a shock because he didn't bother to tell the players," Floyd said.
Jeff Capel followed Corbett and helped direct the team to the MEAC title last year before departing for Old Dominion.
And now Floyd finds himself playing for Thomas, who was a highly successful coach in 11 seasons at Tyler (Texas) Junior College.
Primarily a post-up player his first two years, Floyd has gained more freedom playing for Thomas and has developed into a dangerous shooter.
"It's a shame Floyd missed his freshman year," said Thomas. "He's a tremendous athlete and just coming into his own. He showed what he could do against big-time competition when he scored 19 against Duke and 27 against Georgia Tech when we lost by only four [85-81]."
Floyd's outside shooting helps compensate for his height disadvantage.
"Being able to make the three-point shot just kind of happened suddenly late last season," Floyd said. "It was before a game against Morgan State. I just stepped beyond the line, and the shots started to fall. Now, I can draw my defender outside. I could always drive and post up guys. It just gave me another dimension."
Although Wake Forest is considered a Final Four possibility, Floyd is eager to play Duncan, Randolph Childress and the rest of the Demon Deacons.
"In the summer, I play in a lot of leagues against Randolph Childress and Travis Banks. I've never gone against Duncan, but I played this year against [Duke's] Cherokee Parks and Georgia Tech's Matt Harpring and more than held my own.
"Plus, Duncan is playing me in Baltimore, one of my favorite cities. That's got to give me the edge," Floyd said with a laugh.
Best Game: Beat regular-season champion Coppin in final seconds, 66-64 on John Floyd's flying dunk at Morgan State March 4 to clinch second straight MEAC title.
Worst game: Before Duke lost coach Mike Krzyzewski, the Aggies were routed by the Blue Devils at Durham, 99-56, on Dec. 19, making only 26 percent of their field-goal attempts and scoring only 18 points in the first half.
Style of play: Thomas believes in a balanced offense and a pressure defense to force turnovers.
Key stat: The aggies rely heavily on perimeter shooting, with Allen, Floyd, Beasley and Gray combining for 154 three-pointers.
Miscellaneous: The Aggies are 1-0 at the Baltimore Arena, winning the 1994 MEAC final over S.C. A&T; at the site.