Practice officially began yesterday for most Washington area college basketball teams. Washington Post staff writers and correspondents followed the bouncing basketballs throughout the day. Their reports follow.
Georgetown: It was a long way from the Superdome, where they ended their season just a point shy of the NCAA championship, when the Hoyas took the court behind locked doors yesterday at McDonough Arena.
Patrick Ewing was there, of course, but many others from last season's 30-7 team were gone. Guard Fred Brown was on hand, but his right leg was in a cast following knee surgery for tendinitis. He isn't expected to play before January.
"People see Patrick and everything freezes in time," Coach John Thompson said. "They think because he's still here, everything else is the same."
Despite the presence of the Ewing, who is 20 pounds heavier, Thompson says his biggest concern is rebounding. He says opponents will work at keeping the 7-foot sophomore center away from the boards, and sophomore forwards Anthony Jones and Bill Martin will have to give help.
"The keys to this team are Martin and Jones," Thompson said. "They have to play well this year. We've got some good freshmen who will have to contribute, but I don't know how much."
Maryland: The emphasis was on running and shooting as practice opened yesterday, which should be good news to fans who squirmed during last winter's slow, slow season.
The 30-second clock and three-point play initiated by the Atlantic Coast Conference are key factors in the shift from stall to fireball. But so are new players more suited to a running game, such as 6-9 transfer Ben Coleman and 6-8 freshman Len Bias.
"Last year I thought ACC basketball was sorry," said Coach Lefty Driesell. "I didn't enjoy coaching it, the players didn't enjoy it and I don't think the fans did, either. I love the 30-second clock. I wish we played all 27 games with it."
Driesell said every spot on the team is open and "I'm going to play the best five, whether they're all guards or all forwards or all centers -- well, I really couldn't do that; I don't have five centers."
George Washington: The loudest practice had to be at GW, where Gerry Gimelstob is starting his second season as coach with six freshmen and three sophomores among 13 players.
The newcomers got to know each other in a hurry because, in several drills, Gimelstob had players yell the name of the person they passed to. Screams of "Dave!" "Mike!" "Dan!" "Darryl!" echoed through Smith Center during the closed workout.
Troy Webster, a 6-4 all-state guard from New Jersey, is one of the promising new players. In addition, Gimelstob is relying on three local freshmen: Darryl Webster, a 6-7 all-Met from Coolidge; Chester (Cheese) Wood, a 6-5 forward from Carroll, and Craig Helms, a 6-6 forward from Yorktown, Va.
Gimelstob is counting heavily on Mike Brown, a 6-9 sophomore who led the team in scoring (15.6) and rebounding (8.5) last season.
As the only returning starter, Brown says he's willing to accept a leadership role: "I definitely think I'm going to be a lot better player this year and the team will be better, too."
Howard: While the basketball team worked on Coach A.B. Williamson's offensive strategies, most other students were still asleep. Practice began at 6 a.m.
Williamson, in his eighth year as head coach at Howard (record: 113-80), has been conducting practices in this fashion for seven years.
"Early practice for this year's team is very important," said Williamson. "We have so many new kids on the team, and they need to concentrate on offense. We work two hours a day in the morning on offense, and in the evening we work on fundamental offensive and defensive drills."
Cocaptain Bernard Perry, a 6-5 senior guard from Smyrna, Ga., is the only returning starter. Two transfers from New Jersey could help: Charles Johnson was an all-Eastern guard for Gloucester Junior College and 6-6 forward David Wynn played at Camden Community College.
American: The Eagles have four good reasons to be optimistic -- Mark Nickens, Eddie Sloane, Gordon Austin and Juan Jones. They have played together three years and are eager to continue the team's recent winning success -- 46 victories and two NIT berths in the last two years.
"We're coming off a 21-9 season and because we have so many seniors, people expect us to be good," said Austin, who holds the school assist record. "And we do, too. Plus, we want to do well for Coach (Ed) Tapscott. We could perform even better because we'll be a little more relaxed under him."
Tapscott, an AU assistant for four years before replacing Gary Williams (Boston College) this spring, said he'll run the same basic offensive and defensive systems Williams used.
"When you have good talent, people feel you have to produce immediately," Tapscott said. "If I went .500, people would say I can't coach. And with this team, they would be right."
Navy: When Paul Evans arrived at Annapolis three years ago, he was intent on turning the team into a winner. His first year, Navy won nine games, then improved to 12-14 last season.
Now he talks of "16, 17, 18 wins. We have more offensive power, especially from our freshmen."
Among the plebes are 6-7 forward Vernon Butler of High Point and 6-7 Anthony Wells of Good Counsel. "It's the best freshman group since I've been here," Evans said.
"The key for us is to avoid a midseason letdown that seems to happen every year (nine losses in 13 games last season)," Evans said.
UDC: All-America Earl Jones says there is no reason the Division II national champion Firebirds can't duplicate last season's success.
"We should be even stronger than last year," said Jones, a 7-foot center who missed the first practice with the flu. "Everyone is back and we've adjusted to one another's style of play. Plus, we've got a few new players who'll help us a lot. We'll be much stronger."
Coach Wil Jones wasn't speculating how much his team could improve on a 25-5 record. But he couldn't hide his eagerness to get started.
"We didn't lose a soul," Jones said. "The kids played all summer and gained valuable experience. Earl and Michael (Britt) played overseas and the other kids played well in the summer leagues. We won the championship and the kids know what it takes to win."
Can Jones keep 14 talented players happy? "I played everyone last year and I'll play everyone this year. The only difference is that I have 14 guys instead of 11. On my team it's probably better to be a sub than a starter. If a starter makes one mistake, he's out. A sub gets to make at least two mistakes."
George Mason: The first day was basically a learning experience. With six freshmen on the 12-man roster, the Patriots spent the major part of two practice sessions working on fundamentals.
"The players have a lot to learn," said Coach Joe Harrington. "The emphasis this year will be on playing hard, but also on learning."
The team walked through plays at a 7 a.m. practice, then reconvened at 2 p.m. for drills that stressed agility, quickness and individual skills.
"We have a lot of freshmen, but this is an enthusiastic team," said sophomore forward Carlos Yates (15.9 points last season). "I haven't played with a lot of these guys before, but we have a lot of quickness."