All over the campus, signs are being posted that read, "On Our Way to the NCAA." With all five starters returning from last year's 21-7 league champions, and the Mid-eastern Athletic Conference winner for the first time receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, Howard University expects the veteran squad to earn national prominence.
"I just hope we can live up to all these enormous expectations," Coach A.B. Williamson said recently. "We have a good, veteran team here, but Florida A&M may be the team to beat. Plus, people must remember that it's the winner of the MEAC tournament who goes to the NCAA not the regular-season champion. And the team that wins the regular season usually doesn't win the postseason tourney."
But before that issue comes up in March, the Bison must fight through a relatively grueling schedule that begins with a three-game trip to face Southern, Jackson and Alcorn. Upon returning home, Howard faces Morgan State, then UDC and Earl Jones in the Armory, before entering its 10-game conference schedule. The Bison were 8-1 in the MEAC last year.
However, Williamson's squad will have reason to fear no MEAC opponent. The Bison are extremely tough at foward with 6-foot-8 junior James Ratiff, who last year averaged 20.5 points per game; senior Larry Spriggs, 6-7, 15 points and seven rebounds, and 6-8, 220-pound junior Lawrence Norfleet, who, Williamson says, could force his way into the starting lineup by the beginning of the season (perhaps at center) to give much-needed rebounding.
Ratiff, who transferred from Tennessee two years ago, was the MEAC player of the year last season, hitting 51 percent of his field goal attempts with most of his shots coming from at least 15 feet.
Williamson's best player is probably sophomore guard Bernard Perry, a 6-5 shooter from Atlanta, who last year averaged 10 points. Junior point guard Rodney Wright, who led the team in assists a year ago after transferring from Oral Roberts, will run the offense and 6-11 James Terry returns at center.
Only guard depth, where Williamson says he hasn't determined his third and fourth players, could be a problem. Gino Warner, a 6-2 guard transfer from Florida Southern; 6-7 freshman James Harris from Columbus, Ohio, and 6-5 freshman guard Kevin Scott from Baltimore are the newcomers.
"I feel we could beat Maryland or Georgetown this season," Williams said emphatically. "The small college label doesn't matter as much in basketball as it does in football. Four or five quality players at a school can quickly make a basketball program nationally prominent. Look at Marquette."
Strengths: Good quickness; balanced scoring; three excellent forwards who complement each other; speed to burn; calm, veteran leadership in Williamson and Wright; Bernard Perry is outrageous.
Weaknessess: Rebounding; tough early road schedule.
Assessment: Only Florida A&M in the MEAC has a chance of handling this bunch: however, unlike the nation's well-known conferences, such as the ACC and Pacific-10 this team must win the league tournament, too, to get an NCAA bid, no matter how good its regular season record is.