Terps' Hicks can't stop thinking about tomorrow Center brings special brand of law and order to court

March 18, 1993|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Ask Jessie Hicks a question, almost any question, and she has a long answer for you.

You can ask Hicks, the 6-foot-4 senior center on the Maryland women's basketball team, about triple teams, about replacing an All-American, about the state of America's youth.

But don't ask her about the past.

"We have to live for tomorrow, and that's what I'm trying to do," Hicks said. "You can't dwell on things. When I dwell on things, I get headaches. We've cried many times because of games that we lost. But you have to just go on."

Besides, Hicks says, she could get "clogged up" on the past. That makes it hard to focus on the future.

And Hicks has spoken often lately of "going out with a bang."

Some might figure that she is speaking of leading the 11th-ranked Terps through the NCAA tournament, which begins for Maryland Saturday night in a second-round Midwest Regional game at Cole Field House against the winner of last night's Southwest Missouri State-Oklahoma State first-round game.

But that's not exactly what Hicks, the Terps' leading scorer for the past three seasons and a finalist for a spot on the Kodak All-America team, is thinking of.

"The bang doesn't mean winning a trophy necessarily, but it means being a person my teammates can count on, a really positive person. You know, going out and giving my all, so that I don't say [afterward], 'I wish I would have done this or that,' " said Hicks.

Save for a national championship, there isn't much left for Hicks to accomplish in a Maryland uniform. Her 1,589 points are fourth-best in Maryland history, and she is 89 points away from second place, held by her friend, Christy Winters.

Hicks, who has 697 career rebounds, almost certainly will pass Chequita Wood's total of 703 in the first half Saturday night, and could pass Winters' 723 for fourth place.

The determined talk and those impressive numbers indicate how far Hicks has come at Maryland. Four years ago, she entered College Park as a talented, but less-than-committed freshman from Richmond, Va.

Hicks, who was named the Virginia state player of the year as a senior at Thomas Jefferson High, came to Maryland unprepared for the rigors of coach Chris Weller's program, and quickly became unhappy, so much so that she pleaded with her mother for permission to come home and forget about basketball.

"Adapting to the college level in preseason wasn't a cakewalk, and three weeks into the season wasn't a cakewalk either. My mom said, 'If you want to come home, then come home.' And I was coming home," said Hicks.

That is, until her sister and brother-in-law got wind of her plan to transfer to Virginia State and pass up basketball. They convinced her to give the game and the school another try. Hicks broke a bone in her right foot during that freshman season and missed nine games, but still averaged 10.1 points and 4.9 rebounds.

Part of Hicks' discomfort that freshman season might have come from trying to follow Vicky Bullett, Maryland's all-time leading scorer and rebounder, who had led the Terps to a Final Four berth the season before Hicks arrived.

"It was rough at first, with Vicky leaving and me coming in and trying to fill her shoes. I was young and inexperienced, and all I heard was all she had done for the program. I didn't really understand. I knew I wouldn't be able to do it all at once," said Hicks.

Weller says the comparisons weren't fair to either Bullett or Hicks. Though both centers, Bullett was more mobile and a better outside shooter, and Hicks is a typical, low-post, back-to-the-basket player with better inside moves.

"They are two entirely different players, but two players who both made outstanding progress over the four years and really took their games from being outstanding high school players in their state to a national level in college," said Weller.

But that proficiency didn't come immediately for Hicks, and she said she didn't come to appreciate her decision to stay at Maryland until after her sophomore year, when she participated in the U.S. Olympic Festival, and made the all-tournament team.

"The [sophomore] season went well, and I felt good and I thought I was glad that I stayed. But being on that team boosted my confidence and made me play better."

Indeed, in the past two seasons, Hicks' play has taken off, and, not coincidentally, so has Maryland's. She has been named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference first team for two consecutive years and led the Terps to their first 20-win seasons since Bullett left.

This season, she averaged 17.8 points and 7.6 rebounds, both good for eighth in the ACC. She led the conference in blocked shots at 1.5 and in field-goal percentage, .631, 12th-best in the nation.

Hicks compiled those offensive statistics while facing double and triple teams.

"It's good to have just one person on you, but to have two or three is kind of frustrating, because you can't do anything. But, luckily, I have my teammates, and any of them can step up," said Hicks.

Weller said: "Some people got a little bit carried away with keying on Jessie. It got kind of rough, and it wears on a player. She knows she's not letting anybody down as long as she's doing the best she can do."

Whether or not Hicks' best is enough to carry Maryland to its first national title, she already has begun thinking of what happens next.

Hicks, a criminal justice major, says she may play overseas for a time to earn money for law school, aiming toward becoming one of the tallest and toughest prosecutors in the land.

"I want to make a difference in society. Things aren't getting any better, and I want to get the criminals off the street. I know I can't get all of them, but I'll try," said Hicks.

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