'Cougar' looks to be Terp cat-alyst

November 23, 1990|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Evening Sun Staff

COLLEGE PARK -- It wouldn't be a stretch of the imagination to say that Chic Downing, the father of Maryland reserve guard Matthew Downing, has a pretty fair sense of humor.

How else to explain why a man who supposedly doesn't like cats gives his oldest son the nickname "Cougar"?

"I have a younger brother, who is playing junior college ball, named Leopard," Matthew Downing said, laughing. "And my three younger sisters are named Jaguar, Puma and Bobcat.

"We don't call the girls that anymore. But my little brother is still called Leopard, which we've shortened down to 'Pard,' because it was hard to say when I was young."

Matthew's dad was apparently onto something, for in the practice sessions leading up to the Terps' season-opener Monday against Towson State, Downing, a 6-foot junior college transfer from Atchison, Kan., has shown some cat-like quickness and the aggressiveness of, well, a cougar.

Those skills will come in handy as Downing attempts to settle into a comfortable role behind Walt Williams and Matt Roe.

"I haven't really thought about goals," Downing said. "I'm just trying to settle in right now. As time goes on, I think I'll develop more goals for myself.

"Right now, it is more team-oriented, simply because I'm not a Walt Williams-caliber player yet and I have some developing still to do. Maybe once I do that, then I can set some goals for myself."

Downing played for his father at Atchison High School and helped lead the undersized team to two Kansas state championships and a second-place finish in three years.

His brother and several other relatives were teammates, and the family closeness spilled over onto the floor.

"We didn't have to look," Downing said. "You knew somebody was going to be there at a certain time. It was like instantaneous, automatic, every night. In high school, we lost four games total my three years there. And none of us were taller than 6-2. We just ran up and down the floor."

Yet, except for nibbles from Kansas and Kansas State, no major colleges showed interest in Downing, in part because he was a shooter without much height.

So, he enrolled at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College and shared the backcourt spotlight with Kenny Rogers, who accepted a scholarship this season with Louisiana Tech.

Downing and Rogers alternated shooting and point guard duties, depending on who had the ball. But there is no question where Downing's preferences lie.

"I like to shoot," he said with a big smile. "There's no doubt about it. I feel more comfortable at the two, simply because I played it since I was in high school.

"Coming from a small school, where people were smaller than I was, it's kind of difficult for me to switch from one style of play to another. I'm making the adjustment."

Downing's ability to shift between point guard and shooting guard should allow Maryland to run more than last year, give Williams and Roe some rest, and use the three together in a tri-guard set.

"Hopefully, he can give us some ballhandling behind Walt," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "He's a very good shooter. If they shut down Matt Roe and Walt Williams, hopefully Matt can really step up and make the open shot.

"If he's in there with Walt and Matt at the same time, he will get some open shots. He's a good enough shooter and I think he's confident enough that he can make them."

Williams has no concerns about height disadvantages when he uses Downing with Roe and Walt Williams.

"That doesn't matter to me," he said. "It bothers some coaches, but the size doesn't mean anything. It's how hard the guy plays and how big he plays on the court."

So far, Matthew "Cougar" Downing is playing pretty big.

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