In 13 seasons as the coach at the Air Force Academy and 5 at the University of San Diego, Hank Egan has built a reputation as an expert on the technical and mental aspects of Division I basketball.
This year, with only 2 seniors, a junior and 12 underclassman, Egan will be doing quite a bit of teaching. And his students will have to get to class awfully early.
Beginning Saturday--the first day of formal practice allowed by the NCAA--Egan, a 1960 graduate of the Naval Academy, will call revelry for the season at 0630.
Through the season, when most folks are rolling out of bed, the Toreros will be practicing pick-and-rolls. And when many USD students are heading for class, the team will finally be heading to the showers.
“Temple University has been practicing in the morning for years,” Egan said. “And they have nothing but good things to say about it.”
Yeah, but they’re the Owls, nocturnal by nature and used to being up at odd hours.
So the question remains. Why practice at 6:30 a.m. when nearly every one of your games is at 7:30 p.m.? Is it some kind of cruel punishment for a team that last year finished 11-17, 3-11 in the West Coast Athletic Conference?
“Actually,” Egan said, “the players wanted to do that. I guess the thought of being with me for 2 hours in the afternoon was going to ruin their whole day anyway. So they might as well get it over with early.”
Said team captain Danny Means, “I kind of brought up the idea. I basically was the one, and from there everyone agreed. I like the idea simply because last year (while practicing in the afternoons and evenings) we were studying late into the night. This way it gives us the rest of the day to relax and to study. We’ve been getting up that early since the first day of school anyway for conditioning.”
Added center Dondi Bell: “It’ll be tough. But at the same time, I’ll enjoy it. I won’t have to spend the day thinking about practice. Physically, I’ll have the rest of the day to relax.”
So the players like it, and the coach likes it. It’s all part of a new mood, replacing one that turned sour last year.
“The problem with our team last year was our attitude,” said Means. “The freshman didn’t have a clue. People didn’t know what to expect. Everybody got their tails kicked at one point or another, including myself. It wasn’t like the year before (USD’s most successful season) when we had guys who knew how to take control of a game.
"(The players) are a lot more into it this year. I think the attitude has changed 100%.”
Egan agrees, “We have more kids who know what it takes. Last year they had the burden of trying to live up to the year before.”
In 1986-87, USD finished 24-5 and 13-1 in the WCAC before losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Auburn. That team had 6 seniors, 4 of whom started all 30 games.
Means also started every game in 1986-87 and did the same last season. But he was the only one. The Toreros had 11 different starters last year, and only Means, forward John Sayers (22 games) and center Jim Pelton (21) started more than 17. After an 8-5 nonconference start, the Toreros won only 3 WCAC games and finished seventh out of 8 teams.
Sayers, the WCAC freshman of the year, transferred to California. Pelton and guard Marty Munn were the only seniors last year. Junior forward Mike Haupt, who started the first 17 games, suffered a knee injury that ended his career.
This year’s team is still young but has some players who have “been through the wars,” Egan says.
Means (6-feet 2-inches, 185 pounds) was second on the team in scoring last year (12.1-point average). He was fourth in the WCAC in free-throw percentage (81%) and seventh in 3-point shooting (51 of 117, 44%). He was honorable mention all-conference.
A point guard last year, Means will move back to his more natural shooting guard position. Means’ younger brother, Kelvin, (a 6-0, 170-pound sophomore) is the starter at the point.
Guard Efrem Leonard (6-1, 180) is the team’s other senior. He came off the bench last year to score 10.7 points per game (third on the team). Junior guard/forward Craig Cottrell (6-5, 200) shot 55% while scoring 4.9 points per game.
Bell, a 6-9, 230-pound sophomore from Crawford High, should play a lot at center but will be pushed by sophomore Keith Colvin (6-8, 220).
At forward Cottrell, Colvin and sophomore Randy Thompson (6-6, 195) will compete to start.
Alan Trafton (6-0, 165) is a sophomore guard, and the Toreros have 7 freshman pushing for playing time: guards Mike Bateman (6-3, 170), Gylan Dottin (6-5, 190), Wayman Strickland (6-2, 165) and Michael Schmierer (6-3, 176) and forwards Alan Lewis (6-8, 220), Carlos Carrillo (6-6, 185) and Kelvin Woods (6-5, 210).
Although Egan has some strong ideas as to the roles of players, he’s quick to point out, “Nobody’s safe with the exception of Danny. But that’s good. That’s healthy.”
Egan has 6 weeks before the Tereros first game in the University of New Mexico Tournament, Nov. 26. The home opener is Nov. 30 against the Cal Lutheran, although USD will host the San Diego based Athletes in Action in an exhibition Nov. 7.