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Charlotte seeks mustache magic

By Mike Cranston
Associated PressCHARLOTTE ó It’s thin with a touch of gray, but Bobby Lutz might as well be Tom Selleck to the group of fans that successfully coaxed the Charlotte coach to grow back his mustache.
The hope was bringing it back after a three-year hiatus would coincide with a return to the successful days missing since Lutz went clean-shaven.
With a new group of big guys and a small but experienced point guard, it’s no hairy proposition.
“We’re going to be more balanced,” Lutz said. “It’s really nice to have legitimate options.”
Buoyed by Boston College transfer Shamari Spears (Salisbury), highly touted freshmen Chris Braswell and K.J. Sherrill (West Rowan), junior college transfer Derrio Green and the return of point guard DiJuan Harris, the 49ers expect to be far better than last season’s 11-20 team that was bounced in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament.
“We’ve got so many young guys, wide-eyed, excited and happy to be here,” Lutz said. “They’re just fun to be around, and that’s what gets me excited. Knowing they’re going to play hard and we’re going to get better.”
The first chance to prove it is in Friday’s season opener against UNC Asheville in what’s being billed as “Bring Back the ‘Stache Night.”
A group of fans started the ‘stache chatter in the offseason. A Facebook group ó with 583 members as of Monday ó was formed to urge Lutz to “bring back what used to be the classiest ‘stache in college basketball.”
The fiery Lutz, one win shy of 200 as he begins his 12th season at his alma mater, sported facial hair when the 49ers were tangling with and often beating Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette and Memphis in the old Conference USA. He led Charlotte to a couple of league tournament titles, a regular season crown and five NCAA tournament appearances in seven years through 2005.
The next season, Charlotte was in the Atlantic 10 after realignment broke up Conference USA. The mustache was gone a year later, and there have been no NCAA trips since.
Coincidence? Lutz was willing to see if there can be some mustache magic.
“It’s been growing for a couple weeks,” Lutz said. “It doesn’t grow very fast for me, but I’m doing the best I can.”
The recent struggles left Lutz’s future uncertain before he received a five-year contract in March of 2008. The deal was extended a year after last season’s injury-filled struggles, but athletic director Judy Rose said last summer that it’s “time for us to step up and be one of the better teams” in the Atlantic 10.
A solid group of newcomers should more than offset the losses of Lamont Mack and Charlie Coley.
The bruising 6-foot-6 Spears may be at the top of that list. He averaged 9.6 points and 6.1 rebounds as a sophomore at BC in 2007-08. The Salisbury native then transferred because of family issues.
At 245 pounds, he brings girth and a good shooting touch. After scoring 26 points and making all 12 free throws in an exhibition win last week, Spears is eager to play a real game after sitting out a season.
“The last year has been practice, practice, practice, practice,” Spears said.
The 6-8 Braswell had 17 points and eight rebounds in the exhibition, and the 6-7 Sherrill is another option up front. Senior center Phil Jones is thinner and in better shape than last season, and 6-8 freshman Gokhan Sirin is a tall, outside threat.
The newcomers may mean less playing time for RaShad Coleman and An’Juan Wilderness, key players on the worst team under Lutz. But now the mustache is back, and the 49ers are hoping to return to the successful days from earlier this decade.
“My wife likes it, so that makes it OK to do,” Lutz said. “I’ll probably keep it in season and get rid of it ó hopefully sometime in April.”

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