McLinton to try to mend friend's broken season

January 15, 1991|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Evening Sun Staff

COLLEGE PARK -- There is a scene near the end of "The Godfather 3," where an ailing Michael Corleone passes the family torch onto his nephew, Vincent.

Although not as dramatic, there is some of the same symbolism in injured Walt Williams turning over the leadership of the Maryland basketball team to his friend, Kevin McLinton.

Williams' broken leg gives McLinton, who had shared point guard duties with the 6-foot-8 junior, a chance to run the Terps' offense, and it's an offer he can't refuse, although he'd like to.

"I like the opportunity, but I hate that it happened like this," said McLinton, a 6-3 sophomore guard.

"Walt's probably my closest friend on the team and I just hate the fact it had to happen to him. He's a great player and a real good guy."

Williams broke the fibula, a non-weight-bearing bone, in his left leg Saturday in the 94-78 loss to Duke.

He won't be available to the Terps for at least five weeks -- the four weeks the leg will be in a cast plus a week of rehabilitation -- or perhaps longer.

And that places the burden of running the Maryland offense squarely on McLinton's muscular shoulders. As tomorrow's home game with Virginia approaches, McLinton thinks he's up to the challenge.

"Basically, when Walt was in there, I wasn't trying to score. I was trying to get the ball to them [teammates] and do what I could on defense," said McLinton.

"But now, I'm going to have to score and be a little more aggressive, which I can do. I haven't shown it yet, but I will. I think Wednesday, you're going to see a more aggressive Kevin McLinton."

It was McLinton who suggested to Williams that he should leave the game Saturday, rather than risk further injury.

"We were at the free throw line and he was hurting himself and I saw it," said McLinton, who, ironically, missed all but six games last season with a stress fracture in his leg.

"I said, 'Walt, there's no sense you jeopardizing the rest of the season for this game.' "

Said Williams, "That really meant a lot to me."

McLinton, who played receiver and defensive back for his Springbrook High School football team that won the state Class 4A title his senior year, was moved into the starting lineup five games into the season to help Williams handle the ball.

The move was a good one, as McLinton possesses the team's best assist-to-turnover ratio (1.6-to-1) among regulars.

But while he is fourth on the team in average minutes per game, McLinton is only sixth in shots attempted, a stat that will certainly have to change with Williams and his 20-point average on the bench.

"I just want him to take the shots within the framework of the offense," said coach Gary Williams. "If he's open and he has the shot, he should take it."

The Maryland coach has spread the word that increased defensive pressure and better shot selection will help the team overcome its star's absence.

And McLinton, for one, is more than happy to heed the call.

"We just have to play hard and get every loose ball and every rebound and shut people down and run a good offense," said McLinton.

"If we do that, we'll be OK. We'll see what happens on Wednesday. That will be the first step."

* If Williams' rehab goes as expected, he would be returning only for the Terps' last three or four games. Because Maryland will not play in the Atlantic Coast Conference or NCAA tournaments, the two Williamses would have to weigh the benefit of having a player with pro potential risk further injury by playing in meaningless games.

"That's something that we'll talk about," said Gary Williams. "We'll really be sure that it won't do any damage for him to play.

"If it's a one- or two-game thing, then we'll have to evaluate that. We're not getting ready for the ACC tournament or the NCAA."

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