Rhodes' all-around game shoots to new dimension

January 10, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- When Joe Smith sat down against North Carolina the other night, Johnny Rhodes stood up.

When foul problems forced Smith, the Maryland Terrapins' franchise center, to sit on the bench in the first half Saturday night in Chapel Hill, N.C., Rhodes took it upon himself to become the heart of the Terps' offense.

He drove hard to the basket. He pulled up for jumpers on the break. He spun into the lane and basically demanded that something happen.

"Someone had to do it," he said after Carolina's 100-90 victory in which he scored 21 points and took 19 shots, the latter equaling his career high.

Maryland coach Gary Williams wasn't totally shocked, but close.

"Johnny," Williams said yesterday, "couldn't have done that for us until this season."

Until now, the other components of Rhodes' game were more developed than his offense. A junior guard with an instinctive grasp of the game's fluid angles and rhythms, he put his defense, rebounding and passing ahead of his scoring, not only because someone had to do it, but also because his jump shot was awkward and he felt more comfortable in the background.

Even though he averaged 13 points in his first two seasons, he wasn't a consistent scoring threat so much as the glue keeping together a talented, developing young team; a selfless player willing to fill in many of the unseen, little holes that must be filled.

He is still the glue and always will be, but, as he demonstrated the other night, his offense is catching up with the rest of his game.

"Absolutely," Williams said. "The other guys saw the other night that they can go to Johnny now. And he can produce."

Most college players arrive on campus knowing how to jack up shots and score, but not how to contribute in other areas. It usually takes them a couple of years to become better defenders, smarter passers, more complete.

Rhodes also has taken a couple of years to become more complete, but he is the rare player whose offense needed the extra time to catch up.

There was never a doubt that a player as guileful as Rhodes could find creative ways to score. But he had a fundamental problem that doused any hope of his igniting his offense: He couldn't make a jump shot.

"I played power forward in high school and point guard at prep school, so I never had to shoot from the perimeter," he said yesterday. "I shot it on a flat line, without an arc. And a flat shot isn't going to go in once it hits the rim."

The solution to Rhodes' problem? Simple. Practice, practice, practice.

"You're talking about a major change when you're talking about a 19-year-old changing the arc on his shot," Williams said. "Johnny has worked hard. His freshman year, there was no change in his shot. Last year, he was better in streaks. This year, he's there."

A 42-percent shooter from the field in his first two years, he has shot (no pun intended) all the way up to 56 percent this season. And though the majority of his baskets come on drives, fast breaks or post-ups, he now consistently hits his jumper. His free-throw shooting also has risen, from 53 percent as a freshman to 75 percent this season.

When Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins was gauging the Terps' improvement from a year ago after last week's game at Cole Field House, the first item he measured was Rhodes' outside shot.

"I have total confidence in my shot now," said Rhodes, who is averaging 16 points and needs exactly that against Florida State tonight to reach 1,000 points as a Terp. "Changing the arc was hard. Your shot is like part of your personality. But I'm where I want to be now."

Now that Rhodes can shoot a jumper, his defenders must come outside and guard him. That gives him a chance to use his moves and go around them.

"I'm having fun with that," he said. "I can drive to the basket a lot more now."

Once he is past his defender and into the lane, Rhodes is particularly dangerous, a big (6 feet 4, 205 pounds), physical guard with a deft passing touch.

"I enjoy watching him play," said Williams, offering Rhodes perhaps the ultimate compliment. "He very rarely makes the wrong pass or wrong move. And he's totally unselfish. He's happy taking his 10 shots a game."

Until now, that was probably all he should take. And with the way these Terps are constructed, around Smith, it is probably all he will continue to take as long as Smith isn't in foul trouble.

"My role is to keep doing all the other things I do," Rhodes said. "In order to win, someone has to give up the ball and do all the little

things. I'm happy to do that."

The college game is full of players who make such sacrifices, who limit their scoring because they're adept in the other aspects of the game in which fewer players excel. Rhodes' offense has developed to the point that he has become such a player.

"There's no doubt he could get off more shots than he does," Williams said, "but what he does for us, all the other things, makes us a better team. Still, there's no doubt now that we know what Johnny is capable of doing on offense. He could score more than he does. A lot more."

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