For Howard's Bison the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament that concluded Saturday produced a mixture of elation and distress.
As the young Bison swept aside North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central, then shot the lights out (71 per cent) for 24 minutes to build a 15-point lead against Morgan State in the final, there was joy.
When that lead was frittered away and the title lost, there was the traditional blaming of officials, gnashing of teeth, and many a tear.
But obove all, out of this tournament Howard and its coaches got a balanced, realistic picture of where they now stand, what their strengths are and where they are still weak.
Some would say Bison coach A. B. Williamson has a pat hand. Every important member of this 18-10 team returns next year. With some offseason weightlifting, a summer of playground development and a year of regular-season experience, this team could easily be the MEAC's power next season.
Williamson and his players don't see it that way. They are fiercely ambitious, not just to rule the MEAC, which they are convinced is merely a stepping stone, but in soph Dorian Dent's words, "to put ourselves on the national map."
Saturday's 82-77 loss to Morgan State was the kind of dramatic proof these Bison may have needed to remind them of how far they need to go to be a first-rate team.
"For the next month I'll be traveling," vowed Williamson. "Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, Columbus. We know where the players we need are. Now we've got to get 'em."
Williamson's top priorities have not changed in his top years at Howard. He still needs a guard who can penetrate and direct the offense without dribbling 10,000 times and game, and he needs a scoring guard with size.
The most popular Bison will probably always be little, effervescent Gerald (Tub) Gaskins, who leads the team in smiles, jokes, hustle and behind-the-back passes. But where Williamson wants the Howard program to go, Gaskins will never take it.
"When your point guard dribbles all the time," said Morgans's coach Nat Frazier, pointedly, "your other players stand around and don't know what to do."
A curious misfortune is that Howard's two highest-scorers and best players - John Smith (12.8) and Gerald Glover (18.2) - both play the same smallforward position. When they play the corners simultaneously, the rebounding wilts.
If Smith could complete the transition from high school power center (at Western) to scoring guard, two problems would disappear. Smith has a pro guard's physique, leaping ability and perimeter jumper. But on the three "D's" - driving, dribbling and defense - he has miles to go.
If Smith stays as sixth man, Williamson must look for outside guard punch from two fellows who think they are considerably more polished than they are. David (Hollywood) Whitehead and Nate (Ace of) Speight better not take their fancy high school statistics up against Derrick Jackson or Brad Davis until they learn to do more than hit the unmolested watch-my-pretty-form jumper.
Williamson's current passion is for weightlifting. He is convinced that "muscle is the trend of the game. It's getting so 6-5, 220 pounds is a better basketball size than 6-8, 180."
Inconspicuous, intelligent body-building Mike Nettles (12.6 points) gives Howard an adequate power forward, though he does not have the jumping or timing knack of the slender Glover on rebounds.
Williamson's secret weapon at forward is a completely raw 6-8 freshman, Mike Pressley, who affects a pirate earring, has an evil grin and possesses the kind of shoulders "that you could just hand the muscles on."
That leaves only the vital center spot. With the midseason defection from school of John (Sullen) Mullen, whom Williamson calls "the only player I ever had that I couldn't talk to," the Bison really have only slender Dorian (Chick) Dent in the pivot.
The 6-10 Dent has heart, but no muscle, good defensive instincts but an atrocious looking off-the-palm jump shot. Worse for Dent, Morgan's 6-9 Eric (The Pencil) Evans, the man whose 29 points sunk Howard on Satuday, returns next year (along with all Morgan's other starters).
Evans, who drives across the lane like some berserk, disjointed harvesting machine, has Dent's number. Against the pencil, Dent may block an occasional shot, but for the most part the Bear makes the Bison look like he couldn't guard a telephone booth.
If Howard wants to think in middle-of-the-road MEAC terms, it already has an enjoyable winning team, one which certainly merits more student support than the pathetic turnouts it now gets.
But if the Bison want to rise to the level of Georgetown, George Washington, Navy and American University - and that is Williamson's expectation - they need more team poise, more backcourt discipline and more muscle. The final minutes against Morgan documented that.