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College Basketball: With new deal, Lutz plans to revive Charlotte

Associated Press
CHARLOTTEó Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz has to replace his top scorer from last season. He must fill voids left when the backup point guard quit the team and a key freshman broke his kneecap.
But armed with a new contract, Lutz no longer has to worry about getting fired, lifting a burden that weighed down Lutz and the program for much of last season.
“It feels a lot better,” Lutz said. “I tried to just worry about our team, but to say that that wasn’t a factor would be less than truthful. Now I can 100 percent, instead of 99 percent, think about our team and what we need to do each day to get better.”
Lutz was under enormous pressure a year ago. Denied a contract extension ó and told to look for other jobs ó following a 14-16 season in 2006-07, Lutz was offered the job at South Alabama. He turned it down and stayed at his alma mater, knowing his 10th season at Charlotte could be his last.
Behind senior shooting guard Leemire Goldwire and eight new players, the 49ers went 20-14 and lost at Nebraska in the first round of the NIT. After winning at No. 18 Clemson in January, school officials decided to open contract talks. Lutz, who became the school’s all-time winningest coach late in the season, signed a new five-year deal in March.
The cloud that had hung over the program, hurting recruiting and making players nervous, was lifted.
“Whether we like to say it or not, it was a concern,” forward Lamont Mack said. “We all love coach Lutz and we wanted him to get the extension, which he did. So we’re all happy.”
And now Mack leads a team that returns four starters ó minus Goldwire ó that has loftier goals. Charlotte wants to end a three-year NCAA tournament drought and contend for the Atlantic 10 title.
“We shouldn’t be picked to win it,” said Lutz, who identified Xavier as the A-10 favorite. “But I certainly think we have the talent ó if we don’t have anymore injuries ó to have a chance to play with anybody.”
Mack, a junior-college transfer who averaged 12.8 points last season, figures to become Charlotte’s leading scorer. Leading rebounder Charlie Coley returns, as does forward An’Juan Wilderness and point guard DiJuan Harris, a walk-on turned starter.
But Lutz has had two significant setbacks. Michael Gerrity, a Pepperdine transfer, left the team in September after Harris started ahead of him in an exhibition trip to Canada.
Then freshman guard Shamarr Bowden ó a candidate to replace Goldwire in the starting lineup ó fractured his kneecap in a preseason workout. He underwent surgery on Tuesday, and while no pins or plates were needed to repair the knee, he’ll miss the entire season.
“Even though we’ve got lot of the guys back, Lee was such a huge part. This team has a different dynamic,” Lutz said. “And it’s still evolving because of Mike, because of Shamarr. I don’t think we’ve really got a feel for everybody’s final roll yet. But that’s an exciting thing.”
Sophomore Charles Dewhurst has been backing up Harris at point guard in practice. The shooting guard competition is between junior Ian Andersen and Rashad Coleman, a highly regarded junior transfer who Lutz said is struggling learning his system.
“He’s shown flashes of really brilliant play. Those flashes are usually when he’s just reacting,” Lutz said. “When you’re having to stop and think what you’re supposed to do, it’s hard to do that. But he’s getting better in that area. He’s very intelligent, it’s just a matter of learning.”
Lutz likes the athleticism and depth. He could go 11 players deep and praised 6-foot-10 junior Phil Jones, who was disappointing last year and one of the reasons Lutz called last season’s club “one of our worst rebounding teams.”
But that team was also one of Lutz’s favorites because it helped him keep his job. Now he wants to get the 49ers back in the national conversation like they were for so many years in the old Conference USA earlier in Lutz’s tenure.
“It helps a lot because the guys don’t have to worry about if coach is going to be here next year,” Mack said. “Guys are pretty comfortable and we’re all happy he got the extension.”

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