Kjome rusty, but glad to be Terp Air Force transfer may miss active duty

January 29, 1991|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- Eric Kjome came to the University of Maryland hoping to rejuvenate a college basketball career that took a major detour after two years at the Air Force Academy.

In one sense, things have not worked out as Kjome planned. The senior forward has not regained some of his former skills and has not played a significant role for the Terrapins this season.

But, in a larger scheme, things couldn't have turned out better. Especially considering the alternative: Kjome could be building bases in the Persian Gulf right now for the U.S. Air Force rather than playing at Maryland.

"I'm glad I'm here," Kjome said at practice last week. "I don't think anyone wants to go to war, but if I get recalled, I'll gladly go."

Kjome, who spent two years on active duty as a carpenter at an Air Force Base in Louisiana, before being discharged last summer, is on inactive reserve duty. Meaning that the chances are slim -- but there nonetheless -- that he could be recalled.

Many of those Kjome began with as freshmen at the academy are finishing their pilot training, and could be sent to the Persian Gulf. Many of those Kjome worked with in Louisiana are already in the Middle East, most likely in Saudi Arabia.

"One thing I learned in the Air Force about patriotism is what the American flag means," said Kjome, 23. "I don't want to go over there, but I'll go over to fight for the goals and ideals of the United States."

One thing Kjome (pronounced Cho-me) has learned at Maryland is that the Atlantic Coast Conference is a far cry from the Western Athletic Conference. After averaging nine points and nearly five rebounds while starting 19 games as a sophomore, the combination of the layoff and the step up in competition has proved a bit daunting.

Going into tonight's 7:30 home game against American University (8-8), Kjome is averaging 1.9 points and 0.9 rebounds in 4.7 minutes a game for Maryland (11-7). A good shooter at Air Force, Kjome is six of 12 from the field this season for the Terps. He has played just 23 minutes in five ACC games.

"I thought it would be a lot better opportunity," said Kjome, who wrote to several Division I schools last year and was recommended to Maryland assistant Billy Hahn after a scholarship offer at New Mexico fell through. "Rusty is really a good word to describe me right now."

Aside from the inactivity, Kjome said he has undergone surgery three times in the past two years, twice for a hernia. "I don't think my shot or my legs have come back," he said. "I've lost a lot of my game."

Whether Kjome gets it back by the end of this season seems uncertain, as does his future. Though the clock on his eligibility stopped when he went into the Air Force, there remains a question whether he has any eligibility left after this season because of an exhibition appearance he made before leaving the Air Force Academy three years ago.

Maryland coach Gary Williams said he isn't sure if Kjome will be granted another year of eligibility by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, so for now he's not counting the 6-7, 223-pounder in his plans for next season.

But Williams said he is appreciative of what Kjome has added to his team this season, if not statistically, then in practice each day and off the floor as well.

"I didn't know what to expect," said Williams. "I just wanted him to compete, and he's done that. He knows how to play the game."

Kjome, too, is grateful for the second chance he got to be a college student, and more appreciative of the lifestyle it provides after spending time working at a job. Kjome, an agri-business major, made the Dean's List last semester.

"All we have to do is come to practice and get ready for our next game, or go to class and get ready for our next test," said Kjome, who grew up in Red Wing, Minn. "It's a big job to do, but when you take everything in perspective with what's going on in the gulf, it's a pretty minute thing to be concentrating on a basketball game."

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