The replacement of stars past -- Ron Draper and Daryl Holmes -- is of the utmost concern to new American University coach Chris Knoche, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that stars of the future are primed to emerge on the Eagles.

Two prospective leaders are 6-foot-1 Brock Wortman of Mercer Island, Wash., and 6-2 Fred Tillman of Oxon Hill. Both are senior point guards. The other candidate is 6-6 Brian Gilgeous of Brooklyn, a wiry sophomore forward. Their imposing task: to replace AU's two best players from last year, Draper (16.1 points per game, 12.1 rebounds) and Holmes (13.6, 7.9). The two led AU to a 20-9 record last season.

"The first day I took the job, I told the entire team that leaders need not be seniors," Knoche said. "But they've stood out and are tremendously hard workers."

But one question nags: Two point guards with one ball? Knoche does not foresee problems.

"There will be plenty of time for both," he said. "Their seniority and position dictate that they should be leaders."

Only one can start, though, and for now Knoche says it will be Wortman, who averaged 14.3 points in 19 games last year before injuring his elbow. He encountered another setback recently when his jaw was broken during a brawl outside a bar in Georgetown.

Wortman says it was a freak incident. Knoche declines to discuss it.

"I was cheap-shotted on M Street, hit from behind," Wortman said. "The guy just disappeared into a crowd. It must have been a bad night to be there."

Starting at the point, he recognizes that he probably will not be the man called upon to lead the team in scoring.

"I can't hit 20 to 30 points a game like {Draper} and Daryl," Wortman said. "I think somebody that no one really knows about will emerge."

Last season that somebody was Gilgeous, who averaged 10.5 points and was a Colonial Athletic Association all-rookie selection.

"His greatest strength is his flexibility. He can play every position but center, so he's not pigeon-holed into one," assistant coach Darrell Brooks said. "If he gets a little stronger the next couple of years, he has a legitimate shot of moving to another level."

Adds Knoche, "Brian sees every drill and every circumstance as a challenge."

Gilgeous combines a pronounced confidence with a recognition of his shortcomings that seems almost self-deprecating. So he'll just have to work that much harder, he admits.

"My best asset is defensive ability. I can cover any guy in this league, including Steve Hood {the former Maryland star now playing at James Madison}. That's my own personal belief," he said.

But "I really need to work on my offensive moves and focus on offensive rebounding this season. I'm not really thinking about being a team leader, because I need to get a better understanding of Division I ball."

Until the Eagles get a better understanding of themselves, they will be a team in transition.

"We have to start four sophomores and Brock," Knoche said. "We have a lack of size and experience in the front court, and desperately need a rebounder. I also wish we were deeper, but I can't complain. I had a hand in recruiting all these guys."

Yet at the same time Knoche espouses this squad's virtues. "We're a better outside shooting team and a better foul-shooting team. There are certain innate qualities about this unit, things that they do very well."

Even though Tillman has weak offensive numbers -- his career field-goal percentage is .396, and he has shot free throws at a 53 percent clip -- Knoche is unwavering in his reliance on him.

"He's the type of player I want as a sixth man. He's a terrific defender and is strong enough to defend the off-guards in our conference."

As the first player off the bench, Tillman isn't ready to assume the leadership role just yet. "Leading is a personality trait," he said. "It's not that hard for the guys on this team to do the right thing. It's all in the mind."

Whether the team will finish first, last or in the middle of the pack is unknown, but for now, Knoche is content to be where he is.

"Some days you leave practice deliriously happy," he said. "Then other days you leave just delirious."