Coach Wil Jones describes himself as a basketball maniac, a fanatic; he even changed practice last week so he and his players could go to Georgetown and watch an exhibition game. If Maryland had been playing, Jones said he would have rushed home to catch the last few minutes on television.
"This year," Jones says, "college basketball in our area is about as good as even a fanatic could expect.
"I know they've got some good basketball in different places, but this area is probably unique. You've got Virginia and Georgetown being picked No. 1 in the country by some people. Maryland's coming back, GW and AU will be good. George Mason and Howard will be all right, too."
And of course, Jones' UDC team, the defending national champion in Division II, might be better than some of the Division I teams he mentioned. And Navy, the area's only Division I team he failed to mention.
"This winter," he said, "ought to be wild."
At least three area teams seem to have a good chance at winning national championships. Last season, Georgetown lost the NCAA Division I championship by a point to North Carolina.
Virginia, with 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson, guard Othell Wilson and at least eight more quality players, is ranked by almost everyone as the No. 1 team in Division I. Georgetown is ranked No. 2.
But the Hoyas may have problems early. They have Patrick Ewing, who is 7 foot, and a number of inexperienced but talented players who are likely to mature as the season goes on. Keys are the development of sophomore forwards Billy Martin and Anthony Jones and three freshmen guards--David Wingate, Michael Jackson and Horace Broadnax. Ewing has lots of new moves on offense that should make Georgetown's Dec. 11 game with Virginia and Sampson even more exciting than it would be otherwise. "Patrick is a given," Coach John Thompson says. "We just put him out there."
UDC, with 7-foot Earl Jones and the flashy Michael Britt, is the favorite to win Division II again. With a third Divsion-I level starter in guard Kenny Payne, there are those who think UDC would be a top 10 team in Division I. The Firebirds were 0-2 against Division I teams last season. "They've been so good that practice has been almost boring," Wil Jones said. "I need a reason to chew somebody out."
And then there are the rest:
Maryland once again has talanted players, but they all seem to play the same position. All-America Adrian Branch, 6-8, will be moved to guard to make room for freshman Ed Farmer, who is 6-7. Ben Coleman, 6-9, will play center, even though he is really a power forward. Len Bias, 6-8, from Northwestern High, is a power forward who will play power forward.
What's the team's strong point? "Coaching," says the coach, Lefty Driesell. The team is unsettled at point guard and Driesell said it's going to take him a while to find the right combinations. "When we get in trouble, we'll just give the ball to Adrian."
Pete Holbert, Steve Rivers and Branch will shoot most of the three-pointers in Atlantic Coast Conference games. But the most improved player since last year, according to observers of Maryland practice, is Lefty's son Chuck, a decent ballhandler, strong, and a good shooter. Maryland will struggle early, but should finish no worse than fourth in the ACC.
American, which won 20 games the last two years, has four three-year senior starters who will try for the Eagles' first NCAA Division I tournament bid, following two NIT appearances. First-year Coach Ed Tapscott will have proven players in Mark Nickens, Gordon Austin, Ed Sloane and Juan Jones.
Tapscott's team has been picked by some national publications as one of the nation's top 40. He isn't so sure that's a good thing. "One of the hardest things to do with a senior team is fight complacency," Tapscott said. "Everbody says, 'Oh, Coach, we can do it.' "
At George Washington, Gerry Gimelstob has surrounded sophomore center Mike Brown with six promising freshmen, the best of whom are Troy Webster, a 6-4 all-court player from New Jersey who will start at one of the guard positions, and Darryl Webster, a 6-7 forward from Coolidge High, who can help Brown with the rebounding. Gimelstob hates the word rebuilding, but he almost totally has rebuilt this team, entering his second year.
George Mason and Navy of the ECAC South don't appear to have much chance of winning their conference. But both teams have several talented, young players. Mason Coach Joe Harrington says he is happy his third-year program has reached the point at which it doesn't have to start freshmen. But freshmen like guard Ricky Wilson and forwards Rob Rose, Dwayne Grace and Vince McQueen will play a lot this year. At Navy, Vernon Butler, a 6-7 freshman forward from High Point, will start for Coach Paul Evans.
For the first time in the last three years, Howard will not be favored to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Bison'sthree best players have used up their eligibility. But Coach A.B. Williamson has a superb jump shooter in senior guard Bernard Perry; an intelligent-playing center in 6-8 Chauncey Terry, who is out at least two weeks with an eye injury, and supposedly a good junior college transfer in 6-6 David Wynn.
The best players on these teams could form a nifty NBA franchise. Here's a look at the preseason all-area team, regardless of position:
First Team: Sampson, Ewing, Britt, Nickens, Branch.
Second Team: Earl Jones, Othell Wilson, Brown, Perry, Austin