- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

CUMBERLAND, Md. The Allegany College men's basketball team became popular enough some years ago that there was support to replace 1,500-seat Trojan Square Arena. A new arena, of course, can be a powerful draw for a program, a good way to provide increased revenues for a junior college that has produced 92 Division I players.
Coach Bob Kirk nixed the idea.
"I think you can go too big and it can hurt," the second-winningest coach in junior college history said in his cramped office, located off a small hallway outside the gym. "I would rather have a full small house than a half-full big house."
To keep that small house full, Kirk raises funds to help offset expenses. The school does not provide traditional athletic scholarships like most top JUCO programs, but it does issue financial aid packages based on need. Money is raised through sponsorships; companies like Verizon and Pepsi promote his weekly call-in radio show, while advertisements line the walls of the gym. Attendance also helps; there are some 300 season-ticket holders, and the 1,500-seat gym sells out its bigger games.
Plus, all Allegany's games are broadcast on radio, and home games are televised live on cable in the tri-state area, including Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The rise of the program can be traced to a win over national power Vincennes (Ind.) to open the 1976-77 season. Most top JUCO programs are located in the Midwest, Texas and Oklahoma. The Trojans were merely a regional program before that overtime victory gave them national recognition on the junior college level.
"We actually did it quicker than I thought we could," said Kirk, who was a four-year starter at Frostburg State and one of the first inducted into its Hall of Fame. "[Vincennes] had six D-I players when they had Ricky Green, who later played at Michigan and went on to the NBA. Pretty much since then, we have been nationally ranked. "
About the only thing the Trojans don't have is a national championship. Kirk, who has a 889-172 record, has won 21 conference titles and 15 regional crowns and taken Allegany to the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., 11 times. He has reached the title game twice an overtime defeat in 1996 to Sullivan (Ky.) and a six-point loss in the 2001 title game to Wabash Valley (Ill.). Houston Rockets star Steve Francis led the 1997-98 team to a 33-0 record before it lost in the first round of the 16-team national tournament.
Kirk lists Francis as the best player to attend Allegany and remembers Rick Barnes' promise to stay at Clemson if the talented guard came there. Francis, of course, went to Maryland, and Barnes left for Texas. Top colleges weren't the only suitors for Francis, who had an entourage of about 25 make the three-hour trek from the D.C. area to Cumberland on game days.
"[An agent] told me in my office on the speaker phone that he would make a couple million if he didn't want to go to Maryland," Kirk said. "I think Steve grew up a lot here and learned a lot more than just basketball. "
Francis not only played point guard at Allegany but later delivered one.
"Steve went out to Sacramento to try to recruit [Chris Webber for the Rockets]," Kirk said. "He called me from the airport. He said, 'Do you want a point guard? Because I got one for you.' He said he's on the three-way [phone call] with me.' I said, 'Do you recommend him?' He said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'I'll take him.'"
That was Erick Wills, another area product who started at Allegany for two seasons and led the Trojans to a 32-4 record last season. He now starts for D-I St. Francis (Pa.).
Kirk has been pursued by higher level programs but always decided to stay in Cumberland, largely to be near his family. The coach almost took a one-year sabbatical to be an assistant at James Madison when Lefty Driesell coached there but stayed because he was concerned about what might happen to the program in his absence.
The legendary coach doesn't know how long he will continue, saying he considers it "year to year." The architect of the JUCO powerhouse knows it's unlikely the Trojans will remain at such a lofty level when he retires.
"I always said when it shuts down, I will be the one to shut it down," Kirk said.

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