Great expectations following Rhodes


August 16, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

Washington -- There are names that keep coming up when people around here start talking about Johnny Rhodes. Some with longer memories say Charlie Scott. Others mention Johnny Dawkins.

There are catchwords that keep popping up when people who have watched Rhodes talk about the way he plays. Some say effortless. Others say smart. Most say wait until you see him.

There are questions that keep being asked as Rhodes' circuitous journey from Washington's Dunbar High School to the University of Maryland is about to end.

Is he as good as everybody says? Will Rhodes be to Maryland what Scott was to North Carolina in the early 1970s, what Dawkins was to Duke in the mid-'80s? Those are questions Rhodes chooses not to answer, comparisons he won't make.

"I just go out and play. I don't compare myself to anybody," Rhodes said while he was competing in the recently completed Kenner summer league at Georgetown.

It is difficult for the 6-foot-4 left-hander with the long arms and luscious moves to make those comparisons, considering how uncomfortable he is talking about his exploits and how unfamiliar he is with many of those with whom he is compared.

Before Rhodes left Washington last summer for Maine Central Institute, a New England prep school renowned for turning around and turning out Division I basketball talent, he barely watched the game on television.

"It never excited me," said Rhodes, who didn't play organized basketball until ninth grade because he was too busy riding bikes. "The year I was supposed to come to Maryland, I watched a little to see what it was like. Last year, I watched to see how the team [Maryland] was doing."

Rhodes didn't go to MCI to work on his game. Like many Division I prospects from disadvantaged backgrounds, Rhodes had fallen short on his college board scores.

It seemed for a while after he left that Rhodes, who orally committed to Maryland during his senior year and signed a letter of intent last fall, never would make it to College Park. As each test score came up short, the odds of Rhodes' becoming a Terrapin seemed to grow longer.

"I think a lot of people gave up on me," said Rhodes.

Rhodes never had given up on Maryland. It was the first school to send him a recruiting letter, back when he was a sophomore. Other schools expressed interest when Rhodes received a lot of attention at MCI, but he never wavered.

"He made a pretty good commitment to Maryland when he could have gone to a lot of schools as a Prop 48," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "It showed me a lot about Johnny."

Then came the good news earlier this summer: Rhodes, who never had scored the necessary 700 (out of 1,600) on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, received the requisite number (17 or higher out of 36) on the American College Test. He was eligible to play at Maryland.

"I remember [Maryland assistant] Coach [Art] Perry calling me and saying, 'Do you still want to be a Terp?' " Rhodes recalled. "I didn't know what he was talking about. Then he said, 'You're a Terp, baby.' I told him to stop playing around."

The centerpiece of Maryland's best recruiting class in more than 20 years was finally in place. Incoming freshmen and early signees Duane Simpkins and Exree Hipp were viewed as encouraging signs of a turnaround, but Rhodes was clearly at the top of this class.

Even Simpkins, the slick and speedy point guard from DeMatha High, got excited when he heard the news. It came in a telephone call from another Maryland assistant coach, Corey Gavitt.

"I found myself getting hot and sweaty a little bit," said Simpkins, who envisions throwing a few lobs to Rhodes and Hipp, each with 40-inch-plus vertical leaps.

Few have seen Rhodes play since he left Dunbar. He was used mostly at forward in high school, and was a point guard at Maine Central, averaging more than 17 points, 11 assists and six rebounds for a 29-1 team that sent all 10 of its players to Division I schools.

At Maryland, he is expected to step into the shooting guard spot vacated by Walt Williams, the Atlantic Coast Conference's leading scorer last season and the NBA's No. 7 draft pick in June. There are even some who expect Rhodes to pick up right where Williams left off.

Why all the excitement? Why did Gary Williams get "about 10 calls a week asking if Johnny got his score"? Simple: Rhodes is the best backcourt prospect to come to Maryland since John Lucas, the best perimeter player since Albert King, the best prospect period since Brian Williams. Rhodes will wear No. 15, which belonged to Lucas.

But Gary Williams said all the hype could be hurtful.

"It's not fair," said Williams. "Johnny's been a great player in high school and prep school, but that doesn't mean he'll come in and have to do that as a freshman. We have three seniors who'll be the leaders."

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