There was no David Robinson or Frank Ross to marvel at during yesterday's opening day of college basketball practice. The two local stars have graduated, taking four years of memories and jump shots with them, but this season promises to be exciting nonetheless.
American University will move into a new facility; George Mason has the area's lone new coach, Rick Barnes, and Maryland Coach Bob Wade hopes his second season will be free of the controversy of the past. Georgetown was the only local team to sit out the first day teams were allowed to practice.
Maryland: In 1986, the Terrapins had to wait an extra 15 days before starting practice because of the tumultuous fall and summer that followed the drug-induced death of star Len Bias. This year, they got started as early as possible, taking the court just after midnight in front of about 3,000 students for an intrasquad scrimmage.
The fans saw three new Terrapins: point guard Rudy Archer and freshman centers Brian Williams and Cedric Lewis. Senior forward Derrick Lewis, who is the leading scorer returning to the Atlantic Coast Conference, was in uniform but did not participate because his blood pressure was a bit high, although not seriously so, a spokesman said.
"I'm very excited about the upcoming season," said Wade, whose team (9-17, 0-14 in the ACC last year) is expected to be improved. "I did not have an opportunity last year to prepare for the season."
American: The Eagles said goodbye to Fort Myer last March, but the new field house on AU's campus will not be ready until mid-January. Coach Ed Tapscott said he might not mind playing a few games at the fort since he welcomed a nucleus of experienced players and perhaps his best recruiting class ever. Eric White, who sat out all of last season with a knee injury, also is back.
With Ross, the Eagles finished 13-14 last year, showing improvment for a third straight season. Without Ross, Tapscott feels this group has the overall skills and depth to finally reach .500.
George Washington: Coach John Kuester is pleased with his back court of returning veterans Gerald Jackson, the team's leading scorer last year (13.9), Joe Dooley, Ellis McKennie, and Kenny Barer, but will need help up front to better last year's 10-19 mark. Center Max Blank (6-9) and 6-6 Mike Jones played well in spots last year.
Because of the lack of depth, Kuester said 6-6 freshman Glenson Sitney, 6-11 Art Connell, 5-11 Cot Smith and 6-6 Peter Young will get the "opportunity to play right away."
Howard: Coach A.B. Williamson is coming off his finest year (25-5), although the Bison failed for a sixth straight season to win the MEAC tournament and an NCAA bid.
Williamson welcomed three starters, 6-8 brothers John and Howard Spencer and 6-2 guard George Hamilton, and seven new players, but lost longtime assistant Cy Alexander, who took over at South Carolina State. Williamson has yet to hire an assistant coach and has put all of his energies into trying to develop a point guard while working in the new players.
Williamson is hoping to get help from the group of freshmen that includes 6-2 guard Skip Bynum, 6-5 Jeff Holloman, 6-7 Tyrone Powell and 6-8 Guy Owens.
George Mason: The Patriots showed a new look: From the moment they entered the gymnasium at 7 a.m, they were off and running.
"I'm excited; our style will be different this year," said Barnes, who replaced Joe Harrington in mid-April. "We'll be an up-tempo team and we'll press."
Barnes, who assisted Harrington at GMU for five seasons before working at Alabama and Ohio State, has just seven players returning, but one of them is all-CAA first-team Kenny Sanders, who led the Patriots in scoring last year (17.9).
Virginia: The Cavaliers began their search for a front court with a light evening workout and short scrimmage. The four front-court returnees, including red-shirted sophomore Jeff Daniel, combined for about five points and five rebounds per game last season. Virginia will spend much of the preseason looking for a combination to support a solid backcourt of John Johnson, Richard Morgan and freshman John Crotty.
Mel Kennedy, a senior forward suspended by Holland until at least Jan. 1 for poor class attendance, practiced with the team and will continue to do so through the suspension.
Navy: Without Robinson, Coach Pete Herrmann has to look elsewhere for an inside intimidator. Right now, that task belongs to 6-9 Byron Hopkins.
"Everybody has asked me how we'e going to do without David. I don't think about it. You can't," Herrmann said.
Darren Morningstar, 6-9, and Derric Turner, 6-7, will play up front with Hopkins, who averaged 2.9 points and 2.7 rebounds last season. The Midshipmen, 26-6 last year, also need a point guard to replace Doug Wojcik.
Staff writers Dave Sell and Len Hall and special correspondents Donna Niewiaroski, Steve Goff and Mark Maske contributed to this report.