He's not a plalyer, but he leads in assists Terps manager Morin leads in assists

March 08, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Walt Williams gave Matt Morin his nickname -- Buck -- and, in turn, the first-year team manager helped a then-burgeoning star with the mechanics of his jump shot.

Maryland coach Gary Williams didn't know Morin's real name for nearly a month after he started working for the Terrapins. Since then, the two have developed a bond that goes beyond lugging equipment bags.

Except for his teachers, nobody here calls Morin by his first name, or even his last. Given how many people around campus know him -- and there aren't many who don't -- he may be the second most-famous Buck in the history of Maryland basketball.

"All managers get kidded by coaches and players, but Buck really has the respect of everyone," Gary Williams said. "All good managers allow you to concentrate on basketball. You don't have to worry about missing equipment or getting blind-sided by anything when you go on the road. I give him a lot of responsibility."

When Maryland honored the senior members of its team before this season's final home game yesterday against Virginia at Cole Field House, Buck was called onto the court. All 5 feet 7, 180 cherubic pounds of him. Instead of a plaque, they should have given him a plate of Buffalo wings. (More on that later)

Right along with Walt Williams, Vince Broadnax, Matthew Downing the injured Garfield Smith and walk-on Frank Horton, as well as fellow senior manager Doug Finniff, Buck was finally in a well-deserved spotlight. He never scored a point, or grabbed a rebound, but he might have led the Terps in assists.

"He's really a big part of the team," junior guard Kevin McLinton said.

It didn't start out that way. Two years ago, Morin walked anxiously into the basketball office at Maryland, looking for a job. His father, Howard, had been a CYO coach, and Morin held similar aspirations since he was 16 years old.

"He was so nervous he couldn't talk," said Cleo Long-Thomas, Gary Williams' secretary.

But before long, Morin found himself playing one-on-one after practice with fellow sophomore Walt Williams, who would use those sessions to work on straightening his funky sidespin jumper. One day, Morin made a suggestion.

"I just told him that sometimes his hands drifted off instead of following through," Morin -- uh -- Buck recalled. "I think Walt gave me too much credit, but that's the kind of guy he is. He's become a great player and a great friend."

Said Walt Williams: "He was out there working just as hard as I was."

Of such stories, legends are made. Or at least legendary student managers. The next game, Williams scored 33 points against North Carolina by hitting eight of 10 shots, including all four of his three-pointers. He credited his friend "Buck," whom he had named after the similarly built John Candy character in the movie "Uncle Buck."

"At first it made me mad," Morin said of his nickname. "But it made me so close to the team so quickly."

As a result of the advice he gave Williams, Morin gained a certain stature among the players, and it caught the eye of the head coach. In his 14 seasons as a Division I head coach, Gary Williams can't remember when he has entrusted a manager more than he has Buck.

Their relationship is such that Morin has used Gary Williams' intensely competitive approach in coaching an independent junior varsity team in Montgomery County. How does he react when they run the wrong play or have a call go the wrong way? Does he yell until his face turns red?

"That's the worst part of my coaching, my bench behavior," Buck said. "I've gotten chucked out of the gym a couple of times."

Said Gary Williams: "He looks at this as just not being a manager, but as a chance to learn the game of college basketball at this level. Buck really knows the game."

Buck also knows Buffalo wings. When the Terps went up to the Meadowlands earlier this season, he and a couple of the other managers found a place offering 10 cents a wing. "We ordered $15 worth," Morin said. "I think we finished them."

But Morin knows that he will need more than a wing and a prayer to reach his goals in coaching. Because of recent NCAA legislation that next year will cut the size of Division I coaching staffs by one, likely cutting out the job of graduate assistant coach, Buck's run at Maryland will stop here. At least for the time being.

Expecting to get his degree in history this summer -- a B student, he's taken 22 credits this semester -- Buck hopes to land a job teaching and coaching at the high school level next fall.

Other former managers have gone on to become fairly successful coaches. Perhaps the most famous is another short fellow named Lou Carnesecca, who was manager under Frank McGuire at St. John's. "He was?" Buck asked.

His eyes lighted up.

9- And there wasn't a Buffalo wing in sight.

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