COLLEGE PARK -- Matt Roe was surrounded by a bunch of young University of Maryland basketball fans after a recent game at Cole Field House when one of them became bold enough to ask for more than his autograph.
"Why did you leave Syracuse?" the boy wanted to know.
It is a question that has followed Roe for the past 18 months, since he decided he was unhappy in his role as the Orangemen's designated three-point shooter and transferred with one season of eligibility remaining.
L As he said yesterday, "Basketball wasn't fun there anymore."
Roe has struggled at times in his senior year. At times he seemed to be a prime example of being in the wrong place (Maryland) at the wrong time (no live television, no postseason tournament because of National Collegiate Athletic Association probation).
But, "As crazy as it sounds, it's been a fun year," said Roe.
It also has been one of the craziest weeks in Roe's life as a college basketball player.
He has been in the spotlight as a former part of a Syracuse program that now finds itself under NCAA investigation. Roe was one of several ex-Orangemen interviewed about allegations of potential violations, including a charge that he provided temporary housing for a prospect now on the team.
He also has received his share of attention for the career-high 33 points he scored Wednesday night in a 96-93 victory over Georgia Tech. The win helped Maryland (13-10, 3-7) break a three-game Atlantic Coast Conference losing streak and build some confidence going into today's 1 p.m. home game against eighth-ranked North Carolina (18-4, 7-3).
"I think being around here last year prepared me for it [the Syracuse probe]," said Roe, who arrived at Maryland shortly after NCAA investigators left campus and a few months before the Terps were placed on three years' probation. "I answered their questions, but I'm just trying to concentrate on playing basketball."
While being around the turmoil at Maryland helped Roe in his interview last month, being at Syracuse for three years didn't do much for his game. He was perceived as a one-dimensional player, as much a liability on defense as a threat on offense.
But Roe has shown that there is more to his game than his outside jumper, especially since point guard Walt Williams fractured his left fibula Jan. 12 against Duke. Roe, who is averaging 17.7 points for the season, has scored nearly 22 points a game in the nine games Williams has missed.
"I think he's taken some more responsibility, things like ball-handling and rebounding," Maryland coach Gary Williams said yesterday before practice. "What he's really doing is helping us rebound, since Vince [Broadnax] is usually playing against a guard and isn't in position to rebound."
That is one of the areas Roe has worked on, one that he hopes will help attract interest from pro scouts. Roe, 6 feet 6, is averaging 5.7 rebounds, second among ACC guards to Georgia Tech's Kenny Anderson. A recent shooting slump, when he made only 20 of 61 from the field, brought his field-goal percentage down to 42 percent for the season. Maryland is 7-1 when he shoots 50percent or better, 6-9 when he shoots worse.
When he left Syracuse, Orangemen coach Jim Boeheim questioned Roe's motives, saying at the time, "He left because he thinks he can make the NBA." Roe has not abandoned those hopes, but he seems to be thinking as much now about pursuing an MBA as the National Basketball Association. Roe, who has a 3.6 grade-point average in communications, is on schedule to graduate this spring.
"I've always set goals for myself, and I've always loved to play ball, so why not try to make money doing it?" Roe said. "But if it doesn't work out, I can get a job and go to work."
For now, Roe will savor the last five games of his college career and, perhaps, his basketball career. For the first time since high school, he has become a team's primary scorer. It is an admittedly strange role for a longtime role player.
"I've always been a complementary player," said Roe, whose teammates at Syracuse included future NBA players Derrick Coleman, Rony Seikaly and Sherman Douglas. "I was comfortable with complementing Walt [Williams]. I was doing what the team needed. I've had to step up since he got hurt. It's not something that was planned. It was something that needed to be done."
NOTES: Today's game is sold out. . . . The radio feed will be picked up by Armed Forces Radio and will be heard in the Persian Gulf. . . . Walt Williams continues to work out lightly, but is not expected to play against the Tar Heels.