Terps' Hipp has right stuffs . . . sometimes Soaring freshman battles lows, too

February 04, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Exree Hipp says that he takes "a thinking man's approach to basketball." But is the Maryland freshman thinking a bit too much these days?

"The shots are there. I have to start taking them," Hipp said before practice Tuesday. "I have to start being more aggressive, taking my man to the basket."

Though it's hard for a player of Hipp's wondrous talents to be invisible, the 6-foot-7, 180-pound forward from Washington was close to that in a 78-62 loss to Duke Saturday.

In 36 nondescript minutes, Hipp scored a season-low two points (on 1-for-4 shooting) and had only three rebounds. This from TC player who has averaged a shade under 11 points and five rebounds, while shooting just over 50 percent from the field.

Asked if the Duke game was his low point since beginning his Terps career, Hipp smiled. "I think it's going to be my rebounding point."

Hipp, and the Terps (10-7, 1-6 ACC), will try to rebound tonight as they take on No. 24 Virginia (12-4, 4-3) at sold-out Cole Field House.

"All freshman go through periods like Ex is going through now," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "What was natural before isn't natural now. He's going to have games where he gets out of the flow."

Most predicted the kind of season fellow freshman Johnny Rhodes has had -- the 6-4 guard is the team's third-leading scorer (14.7) and rebounder (5.1) and leads the ACC in steals (2.8) -- but the Ex-pectations for Hipp weren't as high.

Known more for his 40-inch vertical leap while playing in the shadow of 7-1 Serge Zwikker while at Harker Prep, Hipp already has shown his versatility at Maryland.

Hipp has a good, though streaky, outside shot and is capable of hitting the three-pointer. He is a surprisingly good passer. His defensive instincts are sound. He is the league's second-leading freshman scorer behind Rhodes. And his dunks could become the stuffs of legend by the time he's finished at Maryland.

"Exree Hipp has been outstanding," said Virginia coach Jeff Jones. "A lot of the talk over the summer concerned how good a player Johnny Rhodes was and how good a freshman class it was, but you didn't hear much about Exree. He's surpassed expectations."

Though he has played well in Maryland's two biggest wins -- getting 15 points and five rebounds against Louisville and 13 points and nine rebounds against Oklahoma -- he has struggled so far in the ACC.

In Maryland's first seven league games, Hipp is averaging 7.3 points and 4.1 rebounds and is shooting less than 40 percent from the field. Hipp has had his moments as well. Consider a few last week against Clemson.

First, he came out of nowhere, flew across the lane and blocked a layup attempt by Chris Whitney into the third row of seats behind the basket. Later, he got out on the break and finished it off with one of his dunks from the ozone.

"He reminds me of a young Michael Cooper," said Los Angeles Lakers scout Gene Tormohlen as he sat courtside at Littlejohn Coliseum last week. "I can't wait to see this kid play in two or three years."

Neither can Williams -- or Hipp for that matter -- but they will have to wait. For now, what you get is mostly short bursts of brilliance, followed by long stretches when Hipp looks like a freshman in the ACC.

Consider the list of alleged small forwards Hipp has been matched against in the ACC: Georgia Tech's James Forrest (20 points, 11 rebounds), Duke's Grant Hill (15 points, nine rebounds on a bad foot) and Clemson's Devin Gray (a career-high 27). All weigh between 220 and 260 pounds.

"I don't think it's physical," said Hipp, whose physique is similar to that of former Maryland All-American Walt Williams when he was a freshman. "But I'm going to have to get into the weight room after the season and build up my strength."

Said Hill: "I think he's going to be a very good player as he gets stronger."

Stu Vetter, the coach of St. John's Prospect Hall in Frederick, who coached Hipp at Harker Prep, said he doesn't think his former star will have to bulk up that much to have the same kind of success on the college level.

"I think he's very capable of competing on the ACC level at 180 pounds," said Vetter, who coached North Carolina's George Lynch and former Georgia Tech star Dennis Scott at Flint Hill in Virginia. "Certainly, he's going to work on the weights in the off-season. But he's simply doing what Coach Williams wants."

At Harker, Hipp was often the second scoring option and, when defenses collapsed around Zwikker (now being redshirted at North Carolina). At Maryland, he's often the fourth option, usually giving the ball up to seniors Kevin McLinton or Evers Burns. Or Rhodes.

"A lot of people didn't expect me to play that much this year," said Hipp, who scored his career-high 21 in the team's opener against UMBC. "They said, 'He's just a little skinny kid. Give him two years.' I think I can play well now. It's a matter of working harder. If you have a good mental attitude, you'll be OK."

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