PRINCESS ANNE -- Jeff Menday, starting his second season as basketball coach at Maryland-Eastern Shore, scanned his team's roster and voiced his approval.
"The future is bright," he said. "If I had a four-year contract, I'd relax. Unfortunately, we're only afforded one-year contracts here."
Menday's optimism over the coming season is somewhat surprising. He has only four veterans from last season's 13-14 squad, and only one senior starter, shooting guard Aaron McKinney, who led the team in scoring (16.1).
"We've got some solid perimeter players. and we'll be deeper on the bench. But we've got to play every game with a lot of heart like it's our championship game."
If UMES hopes to challenge pre-season MEAC favorites South Carolina State and Coppin State, it will need major contributions from freshman point guard Willie Gray, 6-foot-10 James Wood and Baltimore Dunbar product Alexander Mobley, who sat out last season as a Prop-48 student.
"We're terribly inexperienced," Menday said. "Green and greener, and, in coaching, green is not my favorite color."
Still, Menday sees his youthful bunch as more athletic and a vastly superior-shooting team than last year's model.
"We had a lot of bricklayers last winter," he said. "Now we have a lot of guys who can really shoot the ball."
Grady, from Neale Island, S. C., has been elected to run the show.
"He makes all the right decisions and, for a freshman, he's not afraid to speak his mind," said Menday, who will likely name Grady a co-captain.
But it is Mobley, a 6-8, 235-pound power forward, who is expected to carry the Hawks to another level.
"Mobley is strong enough to be a dominant force in the MEAC," the coach said. "He can score inside and outside and could become the best big man to play here since Joe Pace back in the 60s.
"I know we would have won four or five more games with him in our lineup last year. But we have him now for three more years, and we expect to win a lot of games in that time."
Mobley played as a reserve on Dunbar's unbeaten (29-0) national championship team that featured Keith Booth, Donta Bright and Michael Lloyd. In 1993, playing a more dominant starting role, Mobley helped lead the Poets to a second straight state title.
Said Mobley, "Last year, I watched Booth [Maryland], Bright [UMass] and Lloyd [Syracuse] all have big years in college while I was sitting it out. Now it's my chance. I've had the experience of playing for a national championship team. That should have some kind of positive impact.
"When we lost one game at Dunbar, it was devastating. I can't imagine what it was like losing 14 games last year."
Menday said Mobley used his year away from basketball to advantage. "He hit the books, and also the weight room," Menday said. "Now he's on sound academic footing, but he's also a lot stronger than when he first came here."
Menday also expects big things from sophomore forward John Woods, from Birmingham, Ala., who made the All-MEAC rookie team after averaging 11 points and 6 rebounds.
"With so many young guys, I've got to take on more of a leadership role this season," said Woods, who passed up feelers from Xavier and Coppin State to enroll at UMES. "We're inexperienced, but I definitely believe we have more talent. We could be the real sleeper team in the MEAC this year."
After a slow start last season, the Hawks finished with a rush, winning their last five conference games. The momentum ended when they were eliminated by Bethune-Cookman in the opening round of the MEAC tourney.
"Losing like that really bugged me," said Menday. "In 20 years, I'd put 13 teams in the playoffs and only got bounced in the first round three times. We'll do everything in our power to make sure it won't happen again."