It's a nice problem for a Division II college men's basketball coach: What is the best way to rotate three 6-foot-9 post players, all of them former Division I-caliber talents, into the lineup?
Through the first half of the season, Bowie State Coach Luke D'Alessio has mixed and matched Tim Washington, Jon Smith and Shawn Hampton to near perfection. In large part because of the them, the Bulldogs have won 13 of their first 14 games and began the week ranked 16th nationally.
Including 6-6 small forward Stephen Moss-Kelley, Bowie State's strength obviously lies in its front court. Moss-Kelley spends most of his time being the top perimeter threat, but Washington, Smith and Hampton have given D'Alessio the flexibility to split time and save energy and fouls near the basket.
Washington is the leading scorer, averaging 18.9 points per game, while Smith is third at 14.0, just behind Moss-Kelley (14.9). Hampton, who began playing just a few weeks ago when he became eligible after transfering a year ago, is averaging 6.3 points and 4.7 rebounds in 15 minutes per game.
D'Alessio still hasn't put all three in a game at once. That would probably shift Moss-Kelley to shooting guard and give the Bulldogs a very tall team. D'Alessio said he is toying with the idea but is sticking with what works.
After all, guards Cornelius McMurray (11.6 points, 7.2 assists per game) and Omarr Smith (11 points per game) round out a starting five in which everyone scores in double figures.
"Shawn was the final piece because we don't have any more weaknesses," D'Alessio said. "If Tim or Jon got in foul trouble, I didn't really have anyone of that caliber to back them up earlier in the year. Now I do."
The Bulldogs are likely en route to the school's best season. They have never reached the NCAA Division II tournament, and the school record for victories in a season is 20. The Bulldogs' 13-1 start includes a 7-0 record in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
Washington is in his third year at Bowie State after transferring from American, and Smith and Hampton are both in their first year as Bulldogs.
Smith spent three years at Virginia Tech but moved to Bowie State to seek more exposure. Hampton, a former high school all-American at St. Frances in Baltimore, went to Virginia Commonwealth and then Rutgers before returning after his mother became ill last year. He is listed as a senior but is petitioning the NCAA for another year of eligibility.
"Both of them have really played well," Washington said. "I've been double-teamed sometimes, but there's not anybody now that you can leave. It's really hard for anyone to double-team anyone."
Even though he's out of Division I, Smith thinks that NBA scouts will notice him simply because of how well the team is playing.
"It's really worked out for me so far," Smith said. "I'm kind of like a big fish in a small pond. I've already gotten a lot of looks so far."
Hampton had to sit out two semesters before becoming eligible a few weeks ago. He also loves his decision and sees the team doing very big things this season.
"I hadn't played in a long time, and that Division I experience, there's nothing like it," he said. "But it's been a great experience here. It's been a lot of fun, and it's just a really great team."