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Wizards leaving Shepherdstown

June 20, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - The NBA's Washington Wizards are on the verge of giving up Shepherd College as their preseason training camp in favor of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

The Wizards have not made an official announcement. However, Joe Browning, the sports information director at UNC Wilmington, said the team and the school have a verbal agreement for the Wizards to practice there the first two weeks of October. The regular season begins a few weeks later.

The Wizards were still called the Washington Bullets when they began using Shepherd College in 1992. They practiced there each fall, except in 1998, when the league stopped play during a labor dispute.

Maureen Lewis, the director of public relations for the Wizards, said Shepherd has "great facilities" and the team was satisfied with them.

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Although Lewis couldn't confirm it, the reason behind the move is reportedly former NBA star Michael Jordan's new role with the team. Jordan, who recently became the Wizards' part-owner and president of basketball operations, grew up in Wilmington.

"I'm sure that didn't hurt," Browning said.

The imminent move is disappointing news to Shepherdstown developer Ken Lowe, who helped bring the team to West Virginia.

The Wizards' camp was a plus for the town and the school, he said.

At the end of each camp, the team held an intrasquad scrimmage that was open to the public. Lowe said 3,000 to 5,000 people attended each year at no charge, including area children who wouldn't otherwise have seen pro basketball.

Donations for the Shepherd men's and women's basketball programs were accepted at the door.

Shepherd men's basketball coach Denny Alexander said the scrimmages raised at least $2,000 each year, and one year raised $7,000. The money was used for scholarships, allowing a total of four or five additional players to come to Shepherd, he said.

"I'm in the depression stage," Alexander joked Tuesday.

Alexander said he had been looking forward to seeing Jordan in Shepherdstown, as well as Leonard Hamilton, the Wizards' new coach. In 1989 and 1990, Hamilton coached Alexander's son, Darwyn, at Oklahoma State University.

The Wizards' camp was something about which Shepherdstown could boast, along with the symphony and the theater festival, Mayor Vincent Parmesano said.

"It has certainly been one of the benefits to the quality of life in the community," he said.

Both Lowe and Parmesano said it was a thrill to see Shepherdstown datelines in newspapers covering the Wizards.

Browning, who was sports information director at Shepherd in the 1980s, said UNC Wilmington opened a multi-million-dollar student recreation arena this spring. It includes three full-length basketball courts, an aerobic fitness area, a weightlifting facility, a climbing wall and office space.

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