Terps look to strengthen frontcourt

April 13, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer Gary Lambrecht and Derek Toney contributed to this article.

COLLEGE PARK -- During the two years that the University of Maryland basketball team was banned from postseason competition while on NCAA probation, opposing coaches used the penalty as a tool to recruit against the Terrapins. The strategy worked.

And during the two years since his team's probation ended, Maryland coach Gary Williams filled a sadly depleted roster with several blue-chip high school players by using the pitch that they would get an opportunity to contribute -- and possibly start -- right away. That worked, too.

Now, with the Terps' recent success -- reaching the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament -- and the fact that seven of their top eight players were freshmen or sophomores, opposing coaches are telling recruits that they would not get the same chance to play as quickly if they went to Maryland as other places.

"It's funny how fast things change," Williams said yesterday, the eve of the monthlong spring signing period.

With four scholarships available among the limit of 13 -- one left

from last year, two from preseason transfers by junior John Walsh and sophomore Nemanja Petrovic, and one resulting from freshman forward Nick Bosnic, who yesterday said that he is leaving -- Maryland has the means to fill some needs, primarily another frontcourt player or two and possibly a combination guard.

But has its postseason success, which came at least a year ahead of schedule, hurt Maryland's chances to sign the kind of talent it needs to keep moving up in the Atlantic Coast Conference? The answer will come in the next few weeks.

In one instance, at least, the perception of an overloaded frontcourtthat already includes ACC Freshman of the Year and honorable mention All-American Joe Smith, as well as former Dunbar star Keith Booth and Exree Hipp, has cost the Terps. Brian Watkins, a 6-foot-9 forward from Nashville, Tenn., orally committed to Notre Dame last week and is to sign today. "I think he saw a quicker chance to play," said Williams. "They told him that he'd start there and he wouldn't start here. And they're right."

One situation yet to be resolved is that of Rodney Elliott. A late bloomer whose stock soared as a senior, the 6-8 forward is considered by some to be a better prospect than fellow Poet Norman Nolan, who chose Virginia over Maryland during the early signing period last November.

Elliott, who can play both forward positions, apparently is down to three schools: Maryland, North Carolina State and George Washington. Elliott has been to a couple of games at Cole Field House on his own, but he has made only one official paid visit -- to N.C. State.

"I have always had a special interest in George Washington," Elliott said yesterday. "With Yinka Dare leaving early, I had to take that into consideration."

Williams likely would change the configuration of his regular playing rotation next season to accommodate a player such as Elliott.

Despite their March surprise, the Terps exhibited deficiencies during the regular season. They didn't have a consistent three-point shooter. They didn't have a backup center. They didn't have a deep bench.

"If you look at the top teams in the country -- like an Arkansas or North Carolina -- they play eight or nine guys," said Williams, who played mostly seven last season.

"We're not quite there yet. That's why we've got to work hard to get another strong recruiting class in here. We lost games last season because guys played too many minutes."

* Loyola hasn't named a replacement for Skip Prosser yet -- he left at the beginning of April -- but it already had signed two New York City star players last November in John McDonald and Ahmad Jackson, both of whom earned preseason honorable mention All-America honors.

University of Maryland-Eastern Shore also lost its coach, Rob Chavez, who resigned after resurrecting its stagnant program to take the job at Portland, but not before the Hawks gained 6-8 forward Alexander Mobley from Dunbar. He should help UMES in its depleted frontcourt.

Towson State is hoping for the same results from 6-8 forward Ryan Lexer of Counsel Rock High (Pa.), who committed in November. Lexer figures to help the Tigers, who must replace two post players.

Kevin Simpson of Southern-Baltimore, The Baltimore Sun Player of the Year, remains undecided.

Simpson, a 6-5 guard, who hasn't reached the minimum score of 700 on the Scholastic Assessment Test needed for freshman eligibility, has several major colleges recruiting him, including Massachusetts, Virginia and Maryland.

Simpson says he may attend a prep school or junior college if he is not eligible as a freshman.

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