Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman remembers the days of fielding phones call from coaches telling him about players they thought could play for the Bears.
Bozeman, now in his fourth season, politely rejected those suggestions and continued to pursue players who could compete in higher conferences, but wanted to play for Morgan State. After two consecutive Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament championships, two straight trips to the NCAA tournament and an appearance in the NIT, the Bears are landing marquee players and are now considered one of the top mid-major programs in the nation.
Expectations are high this season as the Bears return five players, including Kevin Thompson and DeWayne Jackson, and add seven newcomers who are expected to make an immediate impact. The Bears, who finished 27-10 last season and lost to West Virginia in the first round of the NCAA tournament, are favored to win the MEAC again despite losing Reggie Holmes — the program's all-time leading scorer — to graduation. But Bozeman and his squad are not worried about predictions — it's all about getting it done on the court.
"We've been the preseason No. 1 team before," said Bozeman, who was named the Hugh Durham Mid-Major Coach of the Year in 2009. "Those are just preseason predictions. We don't get carried away with that type of thing. We don't want to get carried away with that. We do get everyone's best shot. And when people try to go to the tournament, they do want to have on their resume that they beat a mid-major tournament team. The reality is if you want to be successful, then you have to be comfortable with that and you have to accept that. I think the guys have accepted that."
The Bears will be led by Thompson (Walbrook), the MEAC's Defensive Player of the Year last season. Thompson averaged 12.7 points, a league-best 11.9 rebounds and shot 52 percent from the field last season. He had 22 double-doubles — third best among NCAA Division I players — and grabbed 25 rebounds against Towson, a season-high for Division I players.
Thompson spent part of the offseason working out with the football team and said he is prepared for the rigors of the regular season.
"We come out every game the same way," said Thompson, who is the MEAC's Preseason Player of the Year. "We're prepared. I'm trying to talk to the newcomers about what coach expects."
Jackson, a dynamic player who was named MEAC Rookie of the Year last season, averaged 10.1 points and 4.3 rebounds with 30 steals, 28 blocks, and 26 assists in 37 games. He also led the MEAC in 3-point field goal percentage (.458) and scored in double figures 21 times.
"The goal is we are just trying to win," Jackson said. "I'm looking to do whatever coach wants me to do on the floor and be a leader for the team."
The Bears return two seniors in Rodney Stokes and Gene Johnson. Stokes, a center from Old Mill, has started 41 of 82 career games and is a solid defender in the post. Junior forward Ameer Ali started 21 of 35 games last season.
Among the newcomers is Ian Chiles, a 7-foot-2, 270-pound redshirt freshman center from Cliffside Park, N.J.
"He will make a major contribution to the program," Bozeman said. "However, we don't put that type of pressure on freshmen."
Also in the mix are freshmen Justin Black, a 6‐2, 210-pound combo guard from DeMatha, and Justin Jackson, a 5-10, 175‐pound guard from Digital Harbor, and junior transfers Tola Lawal, a two-time NJCAA All-American at Erie (N.Y.) Community College, Larry Bastfield (Towson Catholic), a point guard who started his career at Toledo, and swingman Aric Brooks (St. Frances), formerly of Jacksonville State.
Morgan State plays another competitive schedule, opening Nov. 12 at Loyola Marymount. The season also includes trips to Louisville and Syracuse. The Bears, however, now embrace games in large, sold-out arenas on big-time college campuses.
"We have more guys than we ever had before who are on the same page and have experience," Bozeman said. "When you have those guys with that experience of going to the post-season, they come back with an expectation level. They have a different swagger, a different demeanor. That is what we are experiencing right now. Hopefully, we can build on that."
Eagles and rest of MEAC chasing Morgan State
Coppin State is looking to rebound from last season's 8-22 campaign, which included an 11th-place finish in the MEACE with a 3-13 record. The Eagles, who return three starters and welcome eight newcomers, were picked 10th in the preseason MEAC poll.
Ron "Fang" Mitchell is gearing up for his 25th season at Coppin State, the longest tenure of any local coach.
Junior Michael Harper is the Eagles leading returning scorer, averaging 9.9 points and 3.8 rebounds last season. Senior Vince Goldsberry will lead the backcourt and averaged 8.7 points and 3.6 rebounds. Branden Doughty, who earned MEAC All-Rookie honors last season, averaged 6.4 points and 5.2 rebounds.
Senior Ceslovas Kucinskas (Mount Carmel) also returns for the Eagles after playing in all 30 games last season. He made 15 starts and averaged 5.3 points and 3.5 rebounds.
Coppin State opens the season Nov. 12 at Oklahoma and will face UMBC on Nov. 23 in its home opener.
Greyhounds looking to find scoring punch with loss of Harvey
The biggest challenge for the Greyhounds is to find someone to replace Brett Harvey, who graduated as the 20th all-time leading scorer in school history with 1,208 career points. Loyola was 13-7 overall and 6-12 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference last season.
The Greyhounds will lean heavily on junior Shane Walker, a transfer from Maryland, to pick up some of the scoring slack. Walker found his scoring touch late in the season after recovering from a knee injury with a pair of double-doubles in early February. He then had 14 rebounds in the regular-season finale and scored 26 points in the MAAC tournament.
Senior Jamal Barney (Southwestern) also returns after leading the team in scoring for the second consecutive year. Barney is 105 points shy of his 1,000th career point. Sophomore guard Robert Olson will also be a major contributor after being named to the MAAC All-Rookie team last season. Olson started 26 games and scored 10 points or more in six games of a 10-game stretch last season.
Navy shooting for league title despite being picked sixth
Navy hopes to challenge for the Patriot League title with the return of four starters and seven others who played regularly last season. Navy finished last season 13-17 overall record and fourth in the Patriot League at 7-7. The Midshipmen are picked to finish sixth this season.
The Midshipmen will be led by senior guard O.J. Avworo, whose 5.8 assists per game last season led the Patriot League and was 14th nationally. He also averaged 10.2 point in the Patriot League.
Also returning are Jordan Sugars and senior Romeo Garcia. Sugars averaged 15 points and eight rebounds, ranking in the top five in the Patriot League in both categories. Garcia bounced back from an injury-plagued sophomore season to average 7.6 points and 5.4 rebounds.
Freshmen Jacob Liebert, Isaiah Roberts and Thurgood Wynn are also expected to receive considerable playing time.
Towson hoping to start climb in competitive CAA
Towson has taken some lumps in its nine seasons in the Colonial Athletic Association, but Coach Pat Kennedy is confident he has the right mix of players to start taking down some of the traditional powers.
Towson will be looking to improve on last season's 10-21 mark — including a 6-12 record in the CAA — for its 14th straight losing season. The Tigers lose three of their top four scorers from last season, but return six other players who had at least nine starts. Towson is expecting big things from 6-8 junior Braxton Dupree (Calvert Hall), a transfer from Maryland who sat out last year but appears ready to take on a big role.
Dupree will be joined in the winter by 6-8 senior Robert Nwankwo, a CAA All-Defensive team selection who has been ruled academically ineligible for the fall semester. He was the Tigers' third-leading scorer at 9.9 points per game, and also averaged 8.9 rebounds with had 83 blocks on the season.
The backcourt will also be strong with the return of point guard Troy Franklin (Mount Carmel), who averaged 8.3 points for the season and provides a leadership role. The Tigers also have 6-6 graduate student Brian Morris, who was second in the CAA last year in assist-to-turnover ratio and a first-team All-Academic pick.
UMBC looking to rebound after last season
The Retrievers are ready to put last season's tumultuous 4-26 record behind them. The year began with a season-ending injury to post starter Justin Fry, and UMBC could not find any type of rhythm within its lineup.
Fry returns as a graduate student after earning a medical hardship waiver. Shooting guard Travis King and forward Laurence Jolicoeur also joined the program as graduate students after playing for George Washington and Manhattan, respectively.
Junior guard Chris De La Rosa returns after averaging an America East-best 5.1 assists. De La Rosa averaged 11.7 points— second best on the team — and scored 20 or more points in five games.
Sophomore forward Adrian Satchell became the second Retriever in seven years to earn a slot on the America East All-Rookie Team last season. He averaged 6.2 points and led all America East freshmen with 5.1 rebounds per game.
Burke era begins at Mount St. Mary's
Robert Burke takes over as Mount St. Mary's coach this season, replacing Milan Brown, who left for Holy Cross. Burke, who started his coaching career at UMBC in 1988, served as an assistant at American University last season, helping the Eagles to a fourth-place finish in the Patriot League and a spot in the tournament semifinals last season.
The Mountaineers are coming off a 16-15 season, including a 12-6 mark in the Northeast Conference. Mount St. Mary's will be led by senior forward Shawn Atupem, who averaged 10.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and started all 31 games last season.
Burke also landed three solid recruits in Evan Cleveland, a 6-foot-6, 205-pound forward from Fort Wayne, Ind., Josh Castellanos, a 6-foot-1 guard from Orlando, Fla., and Julian Norfleet, a 6-foot-2 guard from Virginia Beach, Va.
The Baltimore Sun kicks off its look at the 2010-11 college basketball season today with a preview of the local and national college basketball scene. Here's what's next:
Saturday: Ten freshmen from Baltimore are ready to begin their respective college careers at high-major basketball programs. Is this one of the best classes in the city's hoops history?
Sunday: Towson Catholic grad Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech's star player, is the ACC's returning scoring leader. Are Delaney and the Hokies poised to dance in March? Plus ACC capsules.
Monday: Having to replace three senior starters, the University of Maryland men's basketball team worked extra hard over the summer and grew close as a team. Will it pay off? We find out beginning tonight