COLLEGE PARK -- Mike Thibeault has a rare double-major at the University of Maryland: civil engineering and Division I basketball. This unusual mix can make for strange bedfellows, not to mention long hours.
"I know that sometimes he comes into practice with only four or five hours sleep because of his academic demands, but he gets the most out of his abilities," Maryland coach Gary Williams said yesterday. "And anyone who tattoos a Terrapin on his ankle can't be all bad."
Tattoos aside, it has not been easy for the 6-foot-3 sophomore guard from Glen Burnie. But after struggling to please both his teachers and his coaches last year, Thibeault seems to have struck a better balance this season.
When he gets his grades back after this week's final exams, he hopes to improve on his 2.45 grade-point average. And when the 5-1 Terrapins resume play tomorrow at 1 against Towson State (2-4) at Cole Field House, Thibeault hopes to improve on his 2.0 scoring average.
"It does make you feel good when you can do both well," said Thibeault (pronounced Tee-bow). "But when you are trying to meet the expectations others are setting for you, sometimes it puts you on the verge of being very stressed out."
It also comes when you are striving to improve in two vastly, yet similarly demanding, arenas. Because of the time he puts into basketball, he can't apply himself nearly as much as his fellow engineering students. And because of a course load that also includes Calculus and French, he can't put in the extra time he needs in the gym.
The next month certainly will help, as school is in recess and Thibeault can start getting ready for the Atlantic Coast Conference season. With a vastly improved jump shot, and good range beyond the three-point line, Thibeault can give Maryland some help in a much-needed area.
"I always felt I could play, given the chance," said Thibeault, who averaged nearly 30 points a game as a senior in high school and still holds the state single-game scoring record for points and three-pointers made (52 and 10 vs. Queen Anne's). "Back in high school, I was the main guy. But I'm getting better playing at this level."
He certainly seems a lot more comfortable than he did a year ago, when he missed the first eight shots he tried and finished five of 22 from the field, including two of 10 from three-point range. Conversely, this season he hit his first two shots, both three-pointers, and is now 4-for-7 overall.
"It helped a lot," said Thibeault, when asked about making his first two. "It's not as much as a shock to me in terms of the atmosphere when I get in the game."
Williams, who has always liked Thibeault's work ethic and rewarded him with a scholarship last summer, compares him to another former walk-on, Vince Broadnax. After getting limited playing time as a freshman, Broadnax got a scholarship by the middle of his sophomore year and now starts for the Terps at small forward.
Thibeault has used Broadnax, who at 6-3 is built along the same wiry lines, as his role model. And he knows that as much as his outside shot can help Maryland's perimeter game, it's his defense and scrappiness that will get him more court time.
"I'd like to be able to do what he's done," said Thibeault. "It gives you hope."
Williams said that the similarity with Broadnax might not be fully played out for Thibeault because the Terps are much deeper than they were two years ago and more players will be coming into the program as the team's NCAA probation ends after the current season.
"I think Vince hit it at a good time in regard to numbers [of players]," said Williams. "But Mike gives us the same thing as Vince does. He's not afraid of anybody. If we tell him to go in and guard a guy 6-6, he'll do it. If we take Vince out of a game, he [Thibeault] can do a lot of things."
Said Broadnax, "I hate to go up against him in practice. He's always has his hands on the ball."
Thibeault isn't thinking much about next year, when the best recruiting class at Maryland in 20 years comes in and his scholarship might be in jeopardy. Nor is he thinking much about next semester, when his class demands will be as difficult as always.
"Everybody I talk to has been nothing but positive," said Thibeault. "I know there are skeptics who don't think I should be playing at this level, or majoring in engineering while playing basketball. But I wouldn't feel satisfied if I wasn't totally bogged down with work."