Kerwin tries to get over the boos Terps center feels jilted by some fans

February 27, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- The first half of Chris Kerwin's senior season at the University of Maryland was, in many ways, exactly what he expected. It was also more than what others had expected from him.

The 6-foot-10 center had made consistent contributions through Maryland's first 14 games, offensively and defensively. It culminated with a career-high 13 points, as well as nine rebounds and two blocked shots, in an upset of then 12th-ranked Oklahoma on Jan. 19 at the Baltimore Arena.

"I had a lot of confidence going," Kerwin said this week.

But between that night five weeks ago and the second half of Wednesday night's 88-71 victory over North Carolina State, things progressively worsened for Kerwin. The low point came early this month against Virginia, when fans in the student section at Cole Field House started booing him.

"I told Chris that they were booing me," Maryland coach Gary Williams said yesterday.

The booing became more noticeable as Kerwin and the Terps struggled through what turned into a seven-game losing streak. It quieted during the second half against the Wolfpack, but it lingers in Kerwin's mind going into today's final home game, when Maryland (11-12, 2-11) will play Clemson (13-10, 3-10) on ESPN at noon.

Asked if the treatment he received from some of his fellow students affected his play, Kerwin said: "Of course it did. It hurt me a lot. I know I haven't played well, but I don't think any college player who's trying his best deserves that from his team's fans. A lot of people have come up to me and told me, 'Don't let it bother you.' I try not to think about it, but it's hard sometimes."

Kerwin is hoping that his detractors can show a little more class this afternoon, when he and fellow seniors Evers Burns and Kevin McLinton are honored during pre-game "Senior Day" ceremonies. But not just because he's tired of the boos.

This will mark the first time that Kerwin's parents, who live in West Palm Beach, Fla., will watch the youngest of their seven children play a home game at Maryland. In fact, Kerwin will have anywhere "from 15 to 17" family members in attendance. Some are driving from Wisconsin, where he grew up, for the occasion.

"If that happens, with my parents here for the first time," Kerwin said of the booing, "that would be really disappointing. But I don't think those are the real Maryland fans."

Williams said: "I think it was a small group, in more ways than one. What bothers me is that no one works harder than Chris. As long as the intent is there to try to do the right thing, I don't think a player can be faulted."

Kerwin can understand the fans' frustration. He, too, had great expectations for this season in December and early January. Especially when the Terps started 8-1 (including a win over Louisville) and later, shortly after beating the Sooners, when they were 10-5 and looking at a possible trip to the NCAA tournament.

But just as he wasn't the focal point for the team's fast start, he doesn't think he should have been made the scapegoat for its recent losses.

After scoring in double figures eight times in Maryland's first 14 games, Kerwin has reached them once in the past nine.

"People think I'm probably a big reason [for the team's slide]," said Kerwin, who came to Maryland after two non-descript seasons at Old Dominion, averaging 4.1 points and 4.9 rebounds as a junior last season. "I'd ask the people [who are booing] to strap on a pair of sneakers and get out here. If they're so good, why aren't they playing college basketball?"

Still, he is averaging a career-high 7.5 points and 5.6 rebounds, numbers that wouldn't stand out so much had backup center Nemanja Petrovic not broken a leg last month. Kerwin also has taken more than twice as many charges as any other player on the team.

"Chris really helped us when he came here from Old Dominion," Williams said. "We didn't have any players his size, and with the NCAA sanctions we probably weren't going to be able to recruit any. Sometimes there's a short memory."

As short as a month, in fact. Just before the Terps were to play N.C. State in Raleigh on Jan. 23, Kerwin came down with a stomach virus. Despite missing pre-game warm-ups because he ZTC was ill, Kerwin played 34 minutes, scoring seven points. He held Kevin Thompson, the Wolfpack's leading scorer, to two first-half points.

"It was one of the guttiest performances I've ever seen," Williams said at the time.

Aside from losing confidence and his starting job for a couple of games, Kerwin also lost most of the 25 pounds he put on during the off-season with a combination of weight training and a nutritional supplement drink.

Though he weighs 10 pounds more than he did at this point last season, Kerwin still is not as strong or as mobile as most of the other ACC centers. That has allowed everyone from North Carolina's Eric Montross to Florida State's Rodney Dobard to Clemson's Sharone Wright to Thompson to push Kerwin around inside.

"He doesn't put up big numbers, so some of the fans don't think he's doing his job," said Burns, who also has been booed on occasion. "He takes charges. He dives for loose balls. It hurts me to hear the fans booing a guy like Chris. He doesn't deserve the treatment he's been getting."

Kerwin has seen a bright spot in this dark period of his athletic life.

"I guess," he said, "it builds character."

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