Paul Evans, the coach who orchestrated the Naval Academy's 25-5 record and a spot in the NCAA basketball tournament, is thinking bigger things. David Robinson, whose skills made Evans' theories click, is still wondering whether he should think bigger things.
"I'm not looking," said Evans, the ECAC South coach of the year. "But it's always been my goal to coach at a good school in a major conference."
Robinson, a 6-foot-11 sophomore who averaged 23.9 points and 11.5 rebounds a game, reportedly has given consideration to transferring to a regular four-year college where after graduation he could play professional basketball and not have to fulfill a five-year service obligation. "I don't know if I love basketball," he said he response to a question about his basketball future. "I enjoy it. But do I love it?"
Navy's dilemma as it basks in the glow of its greatest season and its first NCAA bid in 25 years, is how to keep its two rising stars on campus. It seems many of the bigger schools are looking hard at both.
In the middle is athletic director J.O. (Bo) Coppedge, who has his own problems trying to convince people that Navy has truly made the leap into the big time, what with its first-round NCAA game against LSU in Dayton at noon Friday.
"Do you know of a bigger school than the Naval Academy?" Coppedge asked defensively.
The 39-year-old Evans is an expert builder of basketball programs who has set school records for victories at, first, St. Lawrence and now Navy. Almost any coach who has success at a mid-level school is bound to be courted by other schools and asked about his future by the media.
At St. Lawrence he was 126-50 and took the Division III school to five NCAA tournaments in his seven years. Last year at Navy his team set the record for a service academy with a 24-8 mark, only to break it with the victory in the ECAC South tournament last weekend.
His five-year record at Navy is 88-54.
Robinson, a center from Osbourn High School in Manassas, Va., has been playing basketball for only three years. If he returns next season for his third year at the academy, he will be required by law to fufill a five-year service requirement.
Evans, who last year signed a multiyear contract, likes the area. "There's a lot to be said for living in Annapolis," he said, pausing on one of the lovelier campus lawns and pointing across the water at his apartment.
"Paul can't take an inland job because he wouldn't have any place for his (sail) boat," Coppedge said hopefully.
Evans, however, is growing weary of overcoming the restrictions of coaching basketball at Navy. The grueling academic pace and the obligatory five-year hitch curtails recruiting and he sometimes thinks longingly of a place where recruiting and coaching are not such chores.
Another drawback to coaching at the Academy is the lack of fringe benefits. Some coaches parlay their jobs into multifaceted business oportunites, radio shows and other sources of income. At Navy the opportunities are limited, although Evans does have a summer basketball camp and shoe contract with Converse.
"There's a lot of pressure in the job," he said. "It's pressure you put on yourself, but as long as it's there, you might as well get some of the benefits out of it."
Even Coppedge admits that because of Navy's locale, there aren't many extra financial opportunities for a coach.
"It's more difficult here, to be frank," he said. "It's something I'm still working on. Annapolis is not a big city for things like that."
Another thing Evans could use is a new gym. Halsey Fieldhouse has charm, but the drafty structure seats only 4,000. The academy funds its athletic programs independently. A proposal for a new arena has been kicked around since 1943. Evans hopes it will be approved sometime in the next couple of years.
Despite the drawbacks, Evans' thoughts of leaving depend on the right type of situation. It would take an almost perfect job to lure him. "I don't want a basketball factory where I can't sell the school," he said.
The dilemma for Robinson is the school itself. He has been deluged by letters and phone calls, some telling him to stay and others saying go, and some from old girlfriends who want to renew the acquaintance ("It's done wonders for my social life," he said). He is a model Midshipman with a 3.24 grade point average, and is vocal about his liking for the Academy.
"I just don't know if it would be worth the effort to go to another school and maybe sacrifice my education," he said.
But he is a raw talent with great potential. His rapid development is surprising in view of his limited practice time and the fact he still lacks polish. He practices about two hours a day, while players at other schools practice much more.
"I couldn't do that (play more) in this environment," he said. "If it was something I wanted, I could do it. That doesn't scare me. That kind of effort is what success is all about. If I wanted to, I could devote myself to it like I do my studies.
"Here it depends on how far behind you want to stay in your studies. That's what life is here. No matter how hard you work, you're still behind."
But people here feel he will stay. "David never initiated any conversation about that (transferring)," Coppedge said. "I personally don't think he'll leave."
"David will tell you that he can be lazy," Evans said. "For him to be in a structured program is good for him. I don't think he would fit into the kind of situation where they drill basketball. For him to practice three hours a day would make him miserable."
Carl Liebert, Navy's sixth man, is Robinson's roommate and closest friend. "He likes the place. He's got a lot of friends here. All he's concentrating on is playing basketball for Navy. That's what's No. 1 in his life," Robinson said.
Liebert presents an interesting contrast to Robinson, working his way up from the last man on the team by virtue of his dogged work habits and love of the game. "Carl really loves it," Robinson said. "He spends all his time out there; he lives it. I know my passion isn't as great as his. If he gets a day off he wants to go out and shoot foul shots. I don't always want to do that. That's something to think about."