Area Teams Open Practice With Eyes On The Ncaas

Posted: October 15, 1986

The quest for a national ranking, tournament titles, the Big 5 title and NCAA bids won't start officially for 46 days, but the groundwork begins today.

Villanova, Temple, St. Joseph's and Drexel start building toward a return to the NCAA tournament, while La Salle hopes to lay a foundation for success and an NCAA bid when basketball practice officially opens today.

Penn, which didn't make it to the NCAA's last season, will rekindle its hopes when - under Ivy League rules - it starts workouts next Wednesday.

At Villanova, the focus will be on what appears to be an outstanding freshman class; at St. Joseph's, on some help that came from other schools; at Temple, on the search for a catalyst, and at Drexel, on concern over the health of the team leader.

At La Salle, attention will be on Speedy Morris, a city high school coaching legend who had been coaching the La Salle women but will be taking his first run at a men's collegiate job.

When Penn gets going, it will be with a powerful incoming contingent plus an incentive to make up for last season and what should have been - an Ivy League title and accompanying NCAA bid.

Villanova. Coach Rollie Massimino will be looking to replace the 16.8 points and 10.2 rebounds a game contibuted by Harold Pressley, now with the Sacramento Kings. Gone also are center Chuck Everson and guards Dwight Wilbur and R. C. Massimino.

But coach Massimino still has the nucleus of a club that could take the Cats to an eighth straight NCAA tourney. Villanova has a running start in the backcourt, with the return of 6-foot, 4-inch senior Harold Jensen (11.8 points per game, 51.3 percent from the field) and all-Big East freshman guard Kenny Wilson.

There is returning depth in the front court in second-leading rebounder (5.1) Mark Plansky, 6-7 Connally Brown and 6-5 sophomore Gary Massey.

But much will hinge on how much of a contribution recruits Barry Bekkedam (6-10), Tom Greis (7-2), Rodney Taylor (6-6) and guard Eric Leslie (6-3) can make. And how quickly.

All were highly recruited elsewhere, and some may change Massimino's philosophy of slowly nurturing his freshmen.

"The four freshmen we have coming in, along with our three sophomores and our other returning upperclassmen, gives us an excellent nucleus with a terrific meld," Massimino said. "But I think our freshmen have to contribute right away in order for us to make an impact in the (Big East)."

Temple. The Owls, coming off a 25-win season, had their prospects diminished when 6-7 Ernest Pollard and 6-11 Duane Causewell - two promising recruits - fell victim to NCAA Proposition 48, the rule setting academic standards for freshmen. Consequently, Temple's only newcomer is 6-6 forward Tom Katsikis of Cherry Hill East.

Coach John Chaney will go with a 10-man squad. He will be counting on Tim Perry, his ever-blossoming 6-9 junior forward (11.6 points, 9.5 rebounds), and a seasoned backcourt of Nate Blackwell (13.1 points) and Howie Evans (12.0). At center, 6-10, 260-pound Ramon Rivas can be a factor if he stays out of foul trouble.

Temple's biggest task, however, is finding someone to fill the void left by the departure of do-everything swingman Eddie Coe.

"We are hoping to go big in the spot that Eddie Coe (6-3) played," Chaney said. That means 6-7 Derrick Brantley, 6-7 Mike Vreeswyck, 6-7 Darrin Pearsall or even 6-3 Jerome Dowdell might get a chance at the job.

St. Joseph's. The Hawks, who last season won the Atlantic 10 title, had 26 wins and gained a victory in the first round of the NCAA tourney, lost Maurice Martin and point guard Geoffrey Arnold to graduation.

But 6-8, 250-pound center Rodney Blake is still around, as are starting forward Greg Mullee (7 points per game), power guard Wayne Williams (13 points, 4 rebounds) and backup forward Jimmy Owens.

Help should be on the way from 6-5 sophomore swingman Henry Smith, a transfer from Ohio University who was an all-city player at West Philadelphia High, and 6-8 sophomore forward Tarone Thornton, who scored more than 1,000 points at Roman Catholic before enrolling at South Carolina.

Mike Shaak, a 6-8 freshman who averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds while

helping Ridley High to a 27-6 record, also will bear watching, but the Hawks surely could have used Ivan Brown, a late-blossoming guard out of Monsignor Bonner who fell victim to Proposition 48.

La Salle. Morris, the first coach in NCAA history to make the switch from women's to men's head coach, averaged 23.9 wins per season coaching Roman Catholic, Penn Charter and the La Salle women. He will have 10 returning lettermen, headed by 6-7 senior forward Larry Koretz (13.2 points per game last year and more than 1,000 career points), forward Tim Legler (12.9) and 6-6 sophomore banger Craig Conlin. But Morris will have to find a team leader to replace the departed Chip Greenberg.

Lionel Simmons, the Inquirer Player of the Year after averaging more than 32 points per game at Southern High last season, should make an impact.

Drexel. Coach Eddie Burke, coming off his first NCAA appearance, will have nine lettermen but will have to find replacements for swingman Walt Fuller (11.4 points, 3 rebounds) and guard Chris O'Brien (8.6 points, 97 assists for the season).

But making up for those numbers is secondary to the recovery of team leader Michael Anderson (18.8 points and 6.5 rebounds; 225 assists and 92 steals for the season), who broke a bone in his right foot in summer-league play.

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