It’s Veterans Day, a time to thank those who’ve served in the military, kept us safe and protected our freedom.
It’s also the start of the men’s college basketball season and the local teams are anything but veteran.
Maryland (Mark Turgeon), George Mason (Paul Hewitt), George Washington (Mike Lonergan) and Navy (Ed DeChellis) all have new coaches while Howard’s Kevin Nickelberry is in just his second season.
Among area coaches, only Georgetown’s John Thompson III and American’s Jeff Jones have been on the job longer than the 22 months that Mike Shanahan has been in command of the Redskins.
Losing 2001 Final Four participant/2002 national champion Gary Williams of Maryland to retirement and 2006 Final Four participant Jim Larranaga of George Mason to Miami leaves Thompson (2007) as the only coach who has been on the big stage with an area squad although Hewitt got there with Georgia Tech in 2004.
And neither Thompson nor Hewitt has anywhere near the national profile of Williams, who coached programs in the Big East (Boston College), Big Ten (Ohio State) and ACC (Maryland) for 29 seasons.
On the court, Maryland lost stud Jordan Williams to the NBA, along with seniors Adrian Bowie, Dino Gregory and Cliff Tucker, leaving Turgeon with just eight scholarship players after a down year in College Park in 2010-11.
Georgetown bid farewell to scorer Austin Freeman and playmaker Chris Wright after a season that ended with an NCAA first-round rout by Virginia Commonwealth.
Mason said goodbye to standout Cam Long while Luke Hancock, hero of the NCAA upset of Villanova, transferred and Andre Cornelius is suspended until December 21st. However, senior forwards Ryan Pearson and Mike Morrison should ease Hewitt’s transition and propel the Patriots back to the tournament.
AU lost Vlad Moldoveanu, the only area player to average 20 points, as well as Stephen Lumpkins (to a contract with the Kansas City Royals) and Nick Hendra from a team that won the Patriot League in 2010 and was the runnerup in 2011, leaving the cupboard relatively bare at Ward Circle.
After not even qualifying for the Atlantic 10 Tournament in 2010-11, GW might be the best-positioned area program to make progress. Three of its top four scorers are back – although one, junior forward Dwayne Smith, is currently sidelined with concussion-like symptoms — as well as Lasan Kromah, who played well as a freshman in 2009-10 but sat out last year with a foot injury.
Howard returns five of its top six scorers but when you were 6-24 there’s still a very long way to go to reach the NCAAs for the first time in 20 years. Navy welcomes back its top two scorers, Jordan Sugars and J.J Avila, but don’t expect its NCAA drought to end at 13 seasons.
It all makes for what could be a down year in an area that loves college basketball and will be in need of a hoops fix if the NBA and the Washington Wizards remain on lockout.
However, I think back to my first year as a full-time D.C. sportswriter. Georgetown was supposed to be subpar and no area teams figured to make the NCAAs.
Instead, the Hoyas wound up in the Elite Eight. Senior All-American David Robinson led Navy back to the tournament. Maryland was a story in going 0-14 in the ACC in the wake of departed star Len Bias’ cocaine overdose and longtime coach Lefty Driesell’s subsequent ouster. And Howard went 23-4 before being upset in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament.
So who knows what might story lines develop as the 2011-12 area college season begins to unfold? Tonight we begin to learn the answers.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.