Pleased with effort, Williams sees ACC wins up Terp road

December 19, 1990|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Evening Sun Staff

Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams and two of his players, junior guard Walt Williams and sophomore forward Evers Burns, recently spent an evening at the B&O Train Museum entertaining some children and local dignitaries.

That's appropriate, because this season Gary Williams has become the conductor of a team that roughly approximates The Little Engine That Could. He keeps pushing and urging his players to chug up the hill and so far, he thinks they can, he thinks they can.

"I think they've worked hard. They play hard. I haven't had any problems in terms of their effort. I like that, because sometimes you have to try to motivate a team to get them to play hard. That hasn't been the case with these guys," said Williams.

Williams knows his team, now 3-3 and getting back to work after BTC a week off for exams, hasn't garnered a lot of respect to date and probably won't once the Atlantic Coast Conference season starts in two weeks.

But that doesn't mean he agrees with all of it.

"I want to be better than where people picked us, and that's no wins in the ACC. I don't buy that, especially at home. I think we can get some wins," said Williams.

"We're going to have to play well, because there's no team that you can say is down in the ACC. We're going to have to raise it up a level, but that's part of the challenge of being a player, being a coach."

Whatever failures the Terps have had so far -- in losses to West Virginia, Boston College and a last-second setback to Jacksonville -- have not been for lack of trying, but rather for lack of other things.

Specifically, Maryland has been plagued by poor shooting (46.8 percent from the floor) and even worse ballhandling (ranking eighth in the ACC in turnover margin), and Williams believes the two are related.

"We can take better shots, but ballhandling plays a role in that," he said. "If you're really good ballhandlers, you get people easy shots. You create situations where people get open. We haven't been able to do that and we might not be that type of team this year. We could struggle with our shots this year.

"We've got a couple of guys who can shoot the ball better than they have so far. You hope that comes as time goes by."

Walt Williams has lived up to his part of the bargain, averaging more than 19 points. But the shots haven't come easily for Williams, especially with the departure of post players Tony Massenburg and Jerrod Mustaf to the NBA.

Defenses have keyed on the 6-foot-8 junior and the turnovers have come as well, as Williams continues to adjust to the playmaker's role.

"It's the defensive pressure," Gary Williams said. "He's not open as much this year because of who we have playing. Last year, he was maybe the third guy they worried about. This year, he's the first guy they worry about. We have to get other players scoring. When they have to worry about other people, Walt will have easier shots."

Senior Matt Roe, Williams' backcourt mate, is averaging 16 points, but he is struggling somewhat in his first year at Maryland after three years at Syracuse and a transfer year off.

"He's in a different situation than he was at Syracuse," Williams said. "He was playing with Sherman Douglas, [Derrick] Coleman, guys like that. It's a little different when you're the main guy and it's a different role for him. And he didn't have the competition last year that everybody else in this situation did, so he's got to adjust to that. It will come."

One of the brighter spots so far has been the development of sophomore guard Kevin McLinton. Since replacing Vince Broadnax in the starting lineup, McLinton has been able to take some of the ballhandling pressure off Williams.

So far, that experiment has worked well, and McLinton, who missed all but four games last season because of a stress fracture in his leg, has given the Terps a heady, vocal oncourt leader who is still improving.

"If he can keep working hard and get to play on a consistent basis without any interruptions, I think he's going to get better," Gary Williams said. "He's only a sophomore and he still has a lot of time here."

The season's biggest surprise has been senior center Cedric Lewis. He has become something of an offensive force, scoring in double figures in all but two games, including a remarkable career-high 21 points last week against Cal-Irvine.

Williams said Lewis' participation in a summer tour of Germany by ACC players did wonders for his development and, most importantly, for his morale.

"He saw that he's got some talent," Williams said. "He's got some things that make him a pretty good basketball player. With Cedric, people always accented the negative in his game. OK, he wasn't a good foul shooter and he dropped some passes.

"But what about the good things? The great thing about Cedric is that very few college players anywhere have his timing, where he just blocks shots. He has that knack. He's an intimidator on defense. But people would talk about the other things."

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