It may be the year 2012 A.D. to you and me, but on the Donnie Tyndall calendar it's Year One L.A.F.
"I jokingly named this season L.A.F. — Life After Faried," Tyndall, the Morehead State men's basketball coach, said Wednesday. "Certainly, it's a different thing."
Behind star senior big man Kenneth Faried last March, Morehead State walked with giants, scoring an NCAA Tournament upset of Louisville.
This season, Year One L.A.F. started with the Eagles getting beaten by 15 points by NAIA school Mountain State in an exhibition game.
"We go from the high of all highs and then, literally, in our first exhibition game we get beat by an NAIA school," Tyndall said. "I always say about this game, you better keep a level head and stay humble. Because I always use this line I heard from Isiah Thomas years ago: 'The game will hurt you.'"
A season ago, Faried's presence at Morehead made NBA scouts into familiar faces in Rowan County. This year, with Faried playing for pay with the Denver Nuggets, the New Jersey Nets are the only team to send a talent evaluator to the Ellis T. Johnson Arena — and the consensus was the Nets showed up to see Murray State's players, not the home team's.
A winter back, Faried's fish-out-of-water narrative of a guy from the tough inner city of Newark, N.J., thriving in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, brought Sports Illustrated and ESPN.com to town to write about him.
This year, the only sighting of the national sports media in Morehead came when The Sporting News and Yahoo Sports showed up last week — to see undefeated Murray State.
"Kenneth, he was a special dude," Tyndall said. "At our level, obviously, we don't reload like a Kentucky. It takes time."
Tyndall came into this season knowing that he would lose more than the 6-foot-8 Faried, Morehead's first-ever NBA first-round draft pick. Standout shooting guard Demonte Harper, whose three-point dagger did in U of L, and energizer bunny Sam Goodman also graduated.
The MSU coach was not, however, expecting to be without talented Terrance Hill. The guard hung 23 on Louisville last year and was averaging a team-best 13 points this season. But Hill was lost for the year Dec. 31 with a knee injury.
Yet in a season in which the Eagles could easily have gone into free fall, Year One L.A.F. is instead turning out to be sort of inspiring.
Minus Hill, Morehead does not have even one player on its active roster averaging double figures in points. Yet MSU has won three of its last four games, played No. 11 and unbeaten Murray closer (66-60 loss) than any other Ohio Valley Conference team and is holding its own (11-11 overall, 4-4 OVC) overall.
"I won't say (Tyndall) has done a better coaching job than he did last year, because I thought what he did last year was so impressive," said Wayne Martin, the former Morehead hoops coach turned Lexington-based television executive. "I do think what he's done is equally special under completely different circumstances."
Morehead has hung tough behind the moxie of veteran point guard Ty Proffitt, the former South Laurel star. Sophomore forward Drew Kelly, the grandson of the late, longtime basketball coach Lake Kelly, has turned his game up dramatically (13.6 points, 5.7 rebounds) in the last seven contests.
In Angelo Warner, a 6-3 true freshman from Orlando, Fla., Tyndall appears to have found another under-the-radar recruit with the ability to become a standout.
"You not only lose Faried and Harper and Goodman, but then the only guy you have who is an all-conference candidate, our leading scorer and best player, Terrance Hill, tears up his knee," Tyndall said. "Yet we've been resilient enough to go 4-3 without him and find ourselves battling for a top-four seed in the league (tournament). We're certainly not where we want to be, but I am proud of our kids, I really am."
Even without the high-flying Faried as a draw, a huge crowd of 6,036 showed up last week to see if the Eagles could pin the first loss on intrastate rival Murray.
"People were standing in the aisles, just a great environment," Tyndall said. "To lead most of the game and then not finish it off was disappointing. But I'm telling you, when we first took it over here five-and-a-half years ago, you could shoot a cannon off inside our arena and not worry about hitting anybody. So I was very prideful of the support our community showed."
In Year One L.A.F., there is still a heartbeat to Morehead State basketball.
Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or firstname.lastname@example.org.