COLLEGE PARK -- First, there was the raccoon that turned out to be a squirrel. Then there was that underwater-looking-at-the-fishes thing that turned out to be snorkeling. Then came that one day in practice, when Sarunas Jasikevicius froze on an inbounds pass and screamed.
"We don't know what he screamed," said Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams, smiling. "But it must have been a Lithuanian word for frustration. Everyone laughed."
Everyone likes the 6-foot-4 freshman from Kaunas, Lithuania. Jasikevicius, 18, is working his way into the hearts of his teammates while working hard for playing time with No. 9 Maryland.
"He's a great guy," said fellow freshman Rodney Elliott, who is Jasikevicius' roommate. "When I first walked in, I didn't know what to expect. All I knew was that he's foreign. I didn't know if he could speak English or not.
"But he introduced himself, and aside from occasionally mixing up squirrels with raccoons, we don't have many miscommunications. And I've even learned to say hello in Lithuanian.
"Labas rytas," said the Dunbar alum.
Jasikevicius (pronounced yes-uh-kav-uh-chus) has been in the United States less than two years, but as Maryland prepared to meet American University tonight in Cole Field House, it was obvious just how well he is fitting in.
"Rodney's taught me about rap music," said Jasikevicius, who used to listen to rhythm-and-blues and classical.
And his coach?
"He's taught me to play better defense," he said.
Now, if Jasikevicius just can persuade his friends to stop calling him "Shooter" in the New Year, things might be perfect. "I don't like being called Shooter, because it means that's all I can do, and I can do more than shoot," he said.
But Jasikevicius is a shooter. And that is what attracted Williams and Maryland to him in the first place. It also is what attracted Jasikevicius to Maryland.
"I know they need me," he said. "They need me to shoot outside in games now and when we get to the ACC, because our team draws so much attention inside."
And as he smiles and thinks about his teammates, it is apparent that he will do whatever they ask.
He came to the United States as an exchange student last year and was the starting shooting guard for Solanco High School in Pennsylvania's Lancaster County. Averaging 20.5 points, mostly from three-point range, he led Solanco to a 20-4 record.
Now, he is the first guard off the bench in relief of junior starter Johnny Rhodes. He averaged eight minutes over the Terps' first nine outings, and that has gone up to 9.8 minutes, thanks to 14 solid minutes against La Salle Tuesday and 19 against Morgan State Friday.
He was 3-for-3 from three-point range against Towson State earlier this month and is making 37.5 percent from long distance, while averaging 5.5 points.
"He has earned his time in the games by the way he plays in practice," said Williams. "And I'm finding out he is a better game player than a practice player. Now, he is learning to handle a much more physical game than he was used to.
"La Salle was a good test for him. He's improved and made the mostprogress on his defense.
"And he's adjusting his shot. He's not used to having 6-foot-5 guys flying in his face, and it takes a little while. But he is proving he needs to be part of the rotation."
In Lithuania, Jasikevicius' father is the director of a sports center, and his mother runs a small hotel attached to it. Jasikevicius learned to play basketball by age 6.
"I just love playing it," said Jasikevicius. "Nothing changes that. I remember March 11, 1990, when I was 14 and the Soviet Union came apart and there was this very happy feeling in all of Lithuania. But my parents' life didn't change and my life didn't change. . . . I just wanted to come to the United States to play basketball."
He has been back to Lithuania once since arriving here in September 1993, and at this time of year, Jasikevicius says he misses his family, especially his 8-year-old brother, Vytenis, and his best friend Zydrunas, who is 7-2 and plays pro basketball in Lithuania.
But there is no doubt Jasikevicius, Maryland's freshman guard, is happy to be right where he is.
"Christmas is the same in Lithuania and here," he said. "But in Lithuania, we celebrate more the New Year. My hope for the New Year is to be the best I can. I think that is what everyone wants to be."