COLLEGE PARK -- The play that restored Evers Burns' confidence happened against Rutgers in the opening round of the recent ECAC Holiday Festival. It came shortly after the sophomore forward had replaced Garfield Smith in the University of Maryland lineup.
"I got an offensive rebound and put it right back in," said Burns, who had recovered an air ball by Walt Williams. "When I hit my first shot, my other shots started to fall and I started to have really good confidence in myself."
Burns' confidence has risen steadily, and so has Maryland's. Going into tonight (7:30) against University of Maryland Baltimore County (1-10), the Terrapins (7-4) have won five of their past six games.
A steal Burns made in Saturday's 81-65 victory over Clemson helped demonstrate that the former Woodlawn standout is ready to play on a big-time level.
After stepping in front of Tigers forward Sean Tyson, he dribbled nearly the length of the court, put the ball behind his back at the foul line and went in for the drive. Though he missed the shot, he helped keep the ball alive on the boards until Cedric Lewis was fouled.
"It showed people I'm no joke," Burns said yesterday from his family's home. "I'm not here to sit on the bench for four years. It was a big play for me, because growing up, Sean Tyson was one of my idols. It was my way of saying, 'I'm not going to take any mess.' "
There have been questions about Burns ever since he arrived at Maryland. He was a blue-chip tight end in high school, recruited heavily by Oklahoma and Penn State. But he was considered a marginal basketball talent, a player who didn't even start as a junior.
Burns had heard the whispers on campus that former coach Bob Wade had recruited him more for his father's political connections than for anything he could do on the court. Emmett Burns Sr. is chairman for life membership of NAACP's Baltimore chapter.
"He [Wade] knew I could play at this level, and I felt grateful for him to give me that chance," said Burns. "Coach [Gary] Williams is just bringing out that talent. I didn't let the people who said I couldn't play bring me down."
After playing well, if erratically, as a freshman, Burns nearly was brought down last spring by poor grades. A "B" student in high school, Burns found it difficult to balance his time between college basketball and school. Only a strong showing last summer saved Burns from academic ineligibility.
"From the beginning, I've told Evers that basketball is secondary to academics," said his mother, Earlene. "In the ninth grade, I didn't let him play because he was having some problems academically. In college, it's a little different. Basketball is a job. I'm encouraging him to talk more with his instructors. He's
always been the type of child who tries to do things by himself."
With his academics shored up, Burns had another problem once the preseason began. Ever since high school, he has had trouble maintaining a good playing weight, and though it might not have affected his responsibilities in football, it has slowed him down in basketball.
It wasn't until recently, when Burns got into a post-practice regimen of skipping rope and running sprints, under the eye of assistant coach Billy Hahn, that he got into the kind of shape that would help not only him, but also the Terrapins.
"I was too heavy," said Burns, who carries between 230 and 245 pounds on his 6-foot-7 1/2 frame. "I was out of shape, and I wasn't playing as hard as I did last year. Because of that, my emotions and my thoughts weren't into the game. I don't know why it happened, and I'm glad things have gotten better."
So is Williams. Projected to start alongside Lewis and Vince Broadnax in the frontcourt, Burns found himself playing behind Smith, a junior-college transfer, because he wasn't playing much defense or rebounding during the preseason.
"I think he's working a lot harder, especially after practice with Billy Hahn," Williams said yesterday. "If you feel you're working hard, it's going to help you in a game. It toughens you up. If he can rebound, score inside, and play some defense, it really helps us."
Burns has scored a total of 46 points the last four games. He had 10 points against Clemson and showed he was mixing it up more inside by the gash over his left eye, which required three stitches. Burns played with blood streaming down his face and received a standing ovation from the crowd when he came out.
Williams had counted on Burns to be an emotional leader this season, more than just a player waving a towel on the bench to get the crowd into the game. "I feel I have to pick up the team if we're playing flat," said Burns. "If I don't play with emotion, I'm not going to help anybody."
Evers Burns' game-by-game statistics this season:
Opp. FGM-A FTM-A Pts R Bl St
Towson 7-10 0-0 14 5 2 0
USC 1-6 0-1 2 4 0 1
W.Va. 4-14 1-1 9 5 2 2
BC 4-10 2-2 10 4 0 0
J'ville 7-9 1-2 15 2 0 0
Cal-Irvine 0-3 6-10 6 4 0 1
Lafayette 1-4 0-0 2 6 1 0
Rutgers 7-14 2-7 16 4 0 1
S.Carolina 1-8 4-6 6 4 0 0
W. Forest 4-9 6-12 14 3 1 3
Clemson 5-10 0-0 10 5 0 2
Totals 41-97 22-41 104 46 6 10