Mount's Cheung fills in, fills it up

March 14, 1995|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun Staff Writer

EMMITSBURG -- Until a little more than a week ago, Silas Cheung always seemed to be on the outside looking in.

In high school in Montgomery County, Cheung's Mount St. Mary's teammates Chris McGuthrie (Springbrook) and Riley Inge (Paint Branch) attracted most of the attention while Cheung played in comparative obscurity at Magruder.

At the Mount, it had been more of the same.

While McGuthrie was Northeast Conference Newcomer of the Year in 1992, Cheung was redshirted with a pulled hamstring muscle.

Last season, Inge made an immediate impact as a 6-foot-4 point guard, leading the league in assists and helping the Mount become a contender. Meanwhile, Cheung averaged 2.5 points while playing about nine minutes a game.

And, though he showed flashes of promise this season, the same, old back seat to his more heralded teammates was reserved for the sophomore from Gaithersburg.

In the conference quarterfinals, Cheung played four minutes against Long Island and failed to score. But that night, his chance arrived when starters Matt Meakin and Jeff Balistrere were injured.

Cheung's rags-to-riches saga began two nights later, when had the game of his college life (20 points, nine rebounds, six steals, five assists) in the semifinal victory over Marist while replacing Balistrere and playing all 40 minutes.

Then, before the ESPN cameras at Rider for the conference title March 5, Cheung emerged as a celebrity.

His 11 points in the first eight minutes of the second half sent Mount St. Mary's surging into the lead after a horrid opening half. He went on to finish with 19 points in the Mount victory and became the unlikely winner of tournament MVP honors.

Cheung had stepped front and center to help put the Mount into the NCAA tournament.

"It was all kind of amazing," said Mount coach Jim Phelan. "Nothing in the first [tournament] game to MVP. Silas saved our lives in that final game, hitting threes and getting in the way of [Charles] Smith on defense. It's quite a story."

Almost as remarkable as the way Phelan landed Cheung, who was born in England because his English mother wanted to go home to bear him, lived in Los Angeles most of his life and then came to Maryland with his mother and stepfather, a doctor at the National Institutes of Health.

Cheung had been to the Mount St. Mary's camp and "didn't particularly stand out," according to Phelan.

But, during the wooing of McGuthrie, Phelan went to see Springbrook meet Magruder twice.

"McGuthrie was already committed to us," said the coach. "But Silas tore up the nets. He got 40 in both games. It was one of those things where I was saying to myself, 'I'm dumb, but how dumb can I be? Why aren't I recruiting this guy?' "

Cheung talked with other schools, but Mount St. Mary's is where he wanted to go. He was lured by the small-school atmosphere and the opportunities his parents would have to see him play.

But it hasn't been easy obtaining the confidence Phelan and Cheung say the 6-foot-2 guard requires to make an impact.

"That's the whole thing with me, confidence," said Cheung. "If I miss a couple, I tend to get down and you know you aren't going to stay in there long.

"I'm not happy Jeff got hurt, but it opened things up for me. In a starting role, there really isn't any pressure if you don't start well."

Said Phelan: "I've never been one to yank people for missing a couple. But now Silas is sure he's going to be there and can relax because he's sure he's going to be in there."

The danger in starting him is that he is giving up 4 or 5 inches to his opponent, because he actually is functioning as a forward. But he played in front of Rider's Smith effectively, using quickness and movement to neutralize him.

Balistrere will be recovered from the sprained ankle he suffered against LIU, but Cheung is likely to start the NCAA tournament game against Kentucky.

"Our goal was to win the NEC and go to the tournament," he said. "I'm not going to miss it now. No matter who we play, we're all going out there to have fun."

GAME DATA

Game: Mount St. Mary's (17-12) vs. Kentucky (25-4).

What: First round, NCAA tournament Southeast Regional.

Where: Memphis, Tenn.

When: Thursday, 7:50 p.m.

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