COLLEGE PARK -- Just when Maryland coach Gary Williams thought he was fresh out of point guards, up stepped Mike Thibeault.
During the Terps' victory over Lafayette last Saturday, Walt Williams was in foul trouble, Kevin McLinton was out of the game after being poked in the eye and Matt Downing had a sore ankle.
Williams looked around for someone willing to orchestrate the offense and first found shooting guard Matt Roe. Then, off the bench, came Thibeault, a freshman walk-on out of Glen Burnie High. Both did fine in the unfamiliar role.
"They were on the court when we pulled away," Williams said as the Terps (4-3) prepared for their game with Rutgers (5-2) tonight in the first round of the ECAC Holiday Festival at New York's Madison Square Garden. It'll be South Carolina against Brigham Young in the second game, with the consolation and championship games scheduled Saturday.
"Neither tried to do more than he was capable of," Williams said, "just ran the offense and helped us get in a position to take over the game. When you have to go to the bench, especially for a point guard, that's the type of play you want to see -- nothing flashy, just solid."
Thibeault (pronounced "Tee-bow") hopes more playing time is in the offing. He has a total of five minutes in appearances against Towson State and Lafayette and scored the first points of his college career, on a pair of free throws, against Lafayette.
"It's good to know I can play at this level," Thibeault said. "I had seen Maryland on TV and thought, 'Hey, I can do that.' Now I'm getting a chance to do it. I feel pretty positive about everything."
He is encouraged, in part, because he is able to give the team's scoring leaders, guards Williams and Roe, a good workout in practice. He notes, too, that his shots "are pretty much going in for me."
Williams, the coach, didn't recruit Thibeault and hadn't seen him play, gleaning everything he knew about the Glen Burnie star from newspapers. Thibeault led the Baltimore metro area in scoring last season with a 29.9-point average and set an Anne Arundel County single-game scoring record with a 52-point outburst against Queen Anne's. He made first-team all-state in Class 4A.
"Mike phoned and said he wanted to come, and here he is," Williams said. "He has good athletic ability, shoots well, plays good defense and works hard."
The problem, in Williams' opinion, is that the 6-foot-3 Thibeault played forward in high school. Now he's a guard.
"It hurts that he was a forward, because he has to improve his ballhandling to play with the college guards," Williams said.
Thibeault could yet wind up with a scholarship. Less than a year ago, Vince Broadnax, then a sophomore, was given one.
"If Mike develops, he possibly can get a scholarship," Williams said. "He has to make the adjustment from forward to guard. I'll give him credit; he's doing this as an engineering student."
The good reputation of Maryland's school of engineering is the main reason Thibeault is here. Some Division II and III schools, plus a few from the Ivy League, noted Thibeault's grade-point average of 3.45 and his 29.9 basketball scoring average and expressed an interest.
"More schools were interested in me as a soccer player than for basketball," Thibeault said. "I never pursued any of them because they were mostly liberal arts. I wanted to go straight for a civil engineering degree. Anyway, it was my dream to play for Maryland; I had watched the team on TV growing up."
Despite a demanding schedule, Thibeault expects to pull a 3.0 GPA this semester, maybe higher. Some days, he has classes from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., then practice from 3:30 to 6, followed by a computer lab for two or three hours. He studies chemistry and calculus in the dorm until as late as 3 a.m.
"Or until I can't see straight," he said. "It was mostly computer work that kept me up. I didn't have computers in high school. I had to teach myself here."
Although his days are filled and his mind is occupied, Thibeault still carries memories of his mother, Judy, who died two years ago after a long battle with cancer.
"I'm dedicating my accomplishments in memory of her," Thibeault said.