COLLEGE PARK -- An informal poll recently taken of some Division I basketball coaches determined that Walt Williams would be their choice to play point guard for a U.S. Olympic team manned solely by college players.
But as the University of Maryland (7-5, 0-2) tries to break its four-game losing streak and win in the ACC for the first time this season tonight against North Carolina State (6-5, 0-1) in Raleigh, the question needs to be asked.
Should Williams continue in his role as the primary point guard for the Terrapins?
The issue has been raised following Wednesday night's 83-66 loss to top-ranked Duke at Cole Field House. Williams scored 25 points, but also had 11 turnovers and no assists. Kevin McLinton, who played 15 of his 39 minutes at point guard Wednesday, scored 19 -- one shy of his season high -- with seven assists and five turnovers.
"That's not our problem," Maryland coach Gary Williams said Thursday of the point-guard situation. "We have to play better offensively. To me, we don't have a problem at point guard. If you're going to shoot 40 percent, you're not going to win a lot of games."
The question as to who runs Maryland's offense more productively -- Williams or junior McLinton -- has been debated since the middle of last season. When Williams broke his leg and missed six weeks, McLinton came in and effectively guided the Terps to six wins in 11 games.
Even when Maryland was playing well earlier this season, there were times when the offense showed better movement with McLinton at the point than with Williams. As with many players whose talents greatly exceed those of his teammates, there is a tendency to stand around and watch Williams operate.
"Sometimes when Walt has the ball, you want to see what he's going to do because he's such a great player," said McLinton. "We stand around and watch and lose focus of what we have to do. I don't know if that's the case right now, but we've got to do something different."
Said Walt Williams: "I don't see that [lack of movement] because I'm out there on the court playing. It's certainly easier for the spectators to see. But maybe because I'm scoring around 23 points a game, the other guys are expecting me to shoot."
Going into the season, Gary Williams said he planned on using a two-guard front, meaning that Walt Williams and McLinton would share the point. It was designed to generate offense from both players, with Williams handling most of the point-guard responsibilities.
But Williams has struggled with his outside shot, and McLinton has had problems playing without the ball. Against the Blue Devils, Maryland couldn't get its offense going until nearly 10 minutes had elapsed and the Terps were behind, 25-8. Shortly thereafter, McLinton took over for Williams, who moved out to the wing or inside.
The result: After scoring on only three of its first 16 possessions, Maryland scored on nine of its next 17 to cut Duke's lead to nine. When Williams went back to the point at the start of the second half, the Terps had similar problems and the Blue Devils, who led by 13 at halftime, ran off 10 straight points.
"We just didn't execute at the beginning of the game," said senior forward Vince Broadnax. "It just so happens when Kevin came in, we started playing better. It may seem like there's more movement with him than with Walt, but I don't think it's true."
Whether or not the players see it, others do. Analyst Billy Packer, a former point guard at Wake Forest, talked about it on the telecast of the Duke game.
"In that particular game, the object was to get Williams closer to the basket to be able to use his height against [Bobby] Hurley," Packer said yesterday. "Against teams other than Duke, the object is probably for Gary to have the ball in Walt's hands and let him go. But the more quality teams Maryland plays, the more those teams will have players to discount that."
Said Walt Williams, "Whenever I tried to drive, three or four guys went with me. I have to create my own shot when I play the point, but when Kevin's at the point, he can drive and kick it back out to me."
But Gary Williams, whose decision two years ago to move Walt Williams from small forward to point guard helped turn around Maryland's season, isn't quite ready to reverse himself now that the Terps are struggling. Walt Williams now has more turnovers (63) than assists (61) on the season.
"They'll both get time at point guard," he said. "We've done it this way and we'll continue to do it this way."
There are a couple of factors involved in this decision. When Walt Williams was contemplating leaving Maryland two years ago, the idea of playing point guard on a full-time basis probably was the main reason he stayed.
Also, it might be more beneficial for McLinton to improve his skills as the off-guard, because even he concedes that incoming freshman Duane Simpkins of DeMatha High likely will be the point guard next season.
"Definitely I like playing point guard a lot," said Williams. "But to make this team better, if I have to play 2-guard or small forward, I'll do it. The people [pro scouts] know I can play the point. If the best thing for this team is for me to play another position, I'll do it. I just want to win."
Said McLinton: I'm sure confused about why we're not playing well. I think Coach is confused. He doesn't know what to do. I don't know what to do. We've had some very good minutes, and then there are times when we look like we can't beat anybody. Maybe eventually we'll get those questions answered."