COLLEGE PARK -- When Kevin McLinton came out of Monday night's game against Maryland-Eastern Shore midway through the first half, University of Maryland assistant coach Billy Hahn pulled the senior guard aside.
"Coach Hahn said to me, 'You're not having any fun,' " McLinton recalled yesterday before practice. "He was right. I told him, 'I'm not having any fun. Maybe I'm putting too much pressure on myself.' "
That much has been evident through Maryland's first three games of the 1992-93 season. A career 43 percent shooter, McLinton has struggled mightily, making only 10 of 30 from the field. He hasn't been as aggressive on the boards, usually one of his strong points.
McLinton admits that, for the first time since assuming the point guard duties for the second time from Walt Williams midway through last season, he had some concerns about losing the job -- or at least playing time -- to freshman Duane Simpkins.
"At first, I was looking over my shoulder," said McLinton, who averaged nearly 11.8 points, 5.3 assists and 4.9 rebounds as a junior. "You kind of press yourself to do better,knowing that a player like Duane is going to be the point guard for three or four years. I really didn't know what position I was going to play. But Coach [Gary] Williams told me that I was going to be the point guard."
McLinton will try to shake himself out of the early-season funk tonight, when Maryland (2-1) takes on American University (2-1) at Cole Field House. Williams has the confidence that McLinton will lift his game, and the Terps as well.
"I think Kevin McLinton is a pretty good basketball player," said Williams. "He's proven himself against the Kenny Andersons and Bobby Hurleys and the rest of the point guards in the ACC. Kevin doesn't have to prove it to me, or to anybody else. I think that Kevin is sometimes his own worst critic."
It is a family trait, McLinton said. It goes back to when he and his younger brother Darren (now a freshman playing for Lefty Driesell at James Madison) were growing up in Silver Spring, the sons of Washington Redskins linebacker Harold McLinton.
Before and after Harold McLinton was killed in an automobile accident 12 years ago, the expectations were high on his sons. "Everyone expected his kids to be the star," Kevin McLinton said. "That puts a lot of pressure on you."
As a result, Kevin McLinton was very much like his father, an overachiever who made up for a lack of physical skills with toughness.
At Maryland, it has carried him to heights nobody thought possible, including a 25-point, 11-assist performance in a near-upset of top-ranked Duke last year in Durham, N.C.
After three years of playing in the shadows of others, McLinton and fellow senior Evers Burns of Woodlawn are the unquestioned leaders this season.
But they are still somewhat in the shadows, this time in the spotlight cast by Maryland's most talented freshman class in more than two decades.
"It's really difficult for Kevin and Evers," Williams said Monday night, after Burns scored a career-high 27 points and McLinton finished with 12 in a 94-63 rout of UMES. "The freshmen have gotten a lot of attention.
"But this is Kevin and Evers' senior year. They deserve to play the most. They deserve the attention. The freshmen have talent, but we can't be a good team without those two guys."
There are reasons why McLinton has struggled. The 20 pounds of muscle he put on during the off-season, a move designed to give the 6-foot-3, 218-pounder enough strength to play some small forward, has taken away whatever quickness McLinton possessed.
And, feeding talented but erratic freshmen is not the same as finding a player of Walt Williams' caliber. Though Johnny Rhodes and Exree Hipp have certainly displayed the ability to score and defend, they don't always know where they need to be on the court.
"Kevin understands that he has to lead this team," said Burns, the team's leading scorer. "Everyone struggles with their game from time to time, but Kevin's shot will come back. If I'm in a tough game, I want Kevin out there with me."
Kevin McLinton's career statistics at Maryland:
Year .. .. G .. .. Reb. .. .. Ast. .. .. TO .. .. .. Ppg.
89-90 .. ..6 .. .. 4 .. .. ..17 .. .. ..20 .. .. .. 3.7
90-91 .. ..28 .. .. 58 .. .. 123 .. .. ..89 .. .. .. 7.8
91-92 .. ..29 .. ..142 .. ..154 .. .. ..104 .. .. ..11.8
92-93 .. .. 3 .. ..12 .. .. 18 .. .. .. 11 .. .. .. 9.7