COLLEGE PARK -- Chris Kerwin's former teammates at Old Dominion used to call him "Bambi," not for his deerlike dexterity or swiftness, but because, like the animated fawn, Kerwin had a hard time staying on his feet.
"I spent most of my time on the floor, tripping over my feet," Kerwin said earlier this week after a Maryland basketball practice.
But if Kerwin, a 6-foot-10 junior transfer center is to help the Terps fill the void left in the middle by Cedric Lewis' departure, then he's going to have to stand upright more often.
About a week into preseason practices, everything is coming along, mostly because Kerwin's footwork is better than it has ever been.
"I've worked on that and I think the weight room has helped me," said Kerwin. "I think working against bigger guys day after day gives me better balance. I can spread my legs out and that helps."
Coach Gary Williams has noticed the improvement from last year, when Kerwin practiced with the team but could not play because he was sitting out the season as a transfer.
"He's much better with his feet," Williams said. "Last year, he fell down all the time [in practice]. He doesn't do that anymore. He's much sure of himself out there.
"For a big guy, the footwork is the hardest because when they catch the ball, they get bumped just about every play. You don't get a clean move to the bucket very often. And you have to be strong enough where that doesn't knock you off stride."
Of course, it doesn't hurt that Kerwin, who weighs 212 pounds -- 23 more than he did as a freshman -- has a practice opponent like 6-8 junior Evers Burns, who outweighs Kerwin by 35 pounds and plays each practice like it was the seventh game of the NBA championship series.
"He's good," said Kerwin of Burns, his likely opposition for the starting center slot. "He's doing really well so far in the preseason and he has worked hard.
"I think there's an unspoken rivalry between us. We're still good friends and, at the same time, we're on the same team working for the same thing. But I guess it's only natural that we're rivals."
Kerwin, who went to high school in White Fish Bay, Wis., and later West Palm Beach, Fla., spent two years at Old Dominion behind center Chris Gatling, averaging two points and two rebounds per game before opting out after his sophomore year.
He said he contacted about 20 schools after getting released from his Old Dominion scholarship, and lucked into Maryland. Art Perry, who recruited Kerwin at Old Dominion, had just gotten hired as an assistant coach at Maryland and talked Williams into offering him a scholarship.
Williams said Kerwin, who is the tallest Maryland player this season, has a good shooting touch for someone his size.
But the plan for Kerwin between now and the season opener against Mount St. Mary's Nov. 23 is to make him more aggressive.
To that end, Williams has been challenging him in practice to be more forceful.
"I'm a lot tougher on him in practice now than I was last year, because you had to worry about the guys who could play last year," said Williams. "He's got a good touch and we want him to get more aggressive. It's as simple as that. If he does, it's definitely going to help us."
"I deserve everything he throws at me because he knows what he's talking about," said Kerwin. "When I let down, he'll pick me up along with the other players. I'm slowly coming along. I have to keep my head into it more."