Close-knit Terps could sew up some surprises Williams sees squad as small but scrappy THE STATE OF BASKETBALL/1991-1992 PREVIEW

November 18, 1991|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- When Gary Williams thinks about this season's Maryland basketball team, he can see 1985.

Boston College was the place then. Michael Adams was the team captain and pepper-pot point guard and about the only player from that team that you've ever heard of.

The Eagles were short and scrappy, somehow managing to notch 20 wins, and nearly knocking off mighty Memphis State with Keith Lee and William Bedford to advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.

In other words, that Boston College team, and the 1991-92 Maryland team, if Williams is right, will be thought of in the same way: a group of overachieving unknowns orbiting around the pull of a star.

"We just battled our way through a lot of things that year," said Williams. "This team has that capability."

According to Williams, this season's Terps also have a closeness and joint sense of purpose that he hasn't seen in his three years here, as they approach Saturday night's season opener at Cole Field House against Mount St. Mary's.

"This is a close team," said Williams. "I think they genuinely like being around each other. They play hard and help out and work pretty well together."

His star, point guard Walt Williams, agrees to a point. "I can't say that we're any closer than we've ever been, but we're very comfortable yelling at each other if we make a mistake," said the senior. "We don't take it personally."

Junior center Evers Burns said: "This team has a special bond. There's not a guy on this team that I wouldn't want to hang out with off the court. It's like if you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us."

That unity has likely been forged in the turmoil that enveloped the team in the past three years, beginning with former coach Bob Wade's last season, 1988-89.

Maryland, prohibited from postseason play and live TV last season for recruiting violations during Wade's tenure, still is banned from the NCAA tournament this season. But it is back on television and, thus, back in the ACC tournament.

Williams and the players are approaching the season as if they've turned a corner of sorts and that all of the past years' preseason distractions are just unpleasant memories.

"I want this year to be only good things, especially for the seniors," said Gary Williams. "With no TV, no NCAA [tournament] and no ACC tournament, they really had to dig deep to find something to play for last year."

Said Burns: "We as a team have just decided that there's just nothing to lose. No holds barred. It's just a free feeling."

Good feelings aside, the Terps, coming off last season's 16-12 record and the loss of center Cedric Lewis and guard Matt Roe and the 29.7 points, 13.8 rebounds and the 5.1 blocks per game they took with them, have several question marks.

Who will score?

Who will rebound?

A goodly share of Maryland's answers will come in the 6-foot-8, 219-pound form of Walt Williams.

Off an encouraging performance in the Pan American Games this summer, Williams, a senior from Temple Hills, already is attracting mention among All-America voters.

However, without Roe on the perimeter and without an already proven scorer in the lineup, Williams will almost certainly need to improve on last year's numbers (18.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists) if the Terps are to have any chance of matching last season's victory total.

But can Maryland be a better team if Walt Williams, who will certainly draw his share of double team and junk zone defenses, is the only reliable option in the offense?

"The Bulls went through it for a long time with [Michael] Jordan," said Gary Williams. "We're getting through that. We all have to take responsibility for scoring. If we can do that, plus have Walt's ability, we can be a better basketball team."

For his part, Walt Williams, who is fully mended from a fractured left fibula that kept him out for six weeks last year, sees the matter of deflecting some of the scoring load as a challenge to his point guard skills.

"I have to get guys into the offense. That's my job. Magic Johnson does a great job of that and if I keep working at it, I don't think that [defenses collapsing on him] will happen much," said Walt Williams.

His support is expected to come from junior guard Kevin McLinton, who filled in admirably in Williams' absence, and senior forwards Vince Broadnax and Garfield Smith.

Guards Matt Downing, a senior, and sophomore Mike Thibeault will be called on for most of the scoring punch off the bench, along with freshman Wayne Bristol, the team's top recruit.

Bristol, a 6-2 guard from Beltsville's High Point High, can play either backcourt position, and Gary Williams repeatedly has compared him to Jay Burson, whom he coached at Ohio State.

Since, with Walt Williams, McLinton and Broadnax, one of the ACC's best man-to-man defenders, the perimeter defense seems to be secure, most of the key for Maryland will be how the Terps respond to the absence of Lewis, who was second in the nation in blocked shots last season.

So far, in preseason, neither Burns, who will start in the middle, nor his backups, junior Chris Kerwin, a transfer from Old Dominion, and freshmen Kurtis Shultz of DeMatha High and Geno Soto, a Puerto Rican native, have presented the threat of intimidation that Lewis did.

"They've got to set good screens and play good defense if we're going to have a chance," said Gary Williams. "A lot for those guys depends on whether they can get the ball [rebound] and play."

The team will conduct a scrimmage at 7 tonight at Cole Field House.

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