Simpkins hears the boss is well

March 24, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Getting yelled at never sounded better to Duane Simpkins.

"It meant things were back to normal," he said, smiling. "There's no doubt we needed it as a team."

The yelling occurred in the Maryland Terrapins' first two NCAA tournament games last weekend in Salt Lake City. Terps coach Gary Williams repeatedly chewed out Simpkins from the sidelines, as he always does.

Simpkins' blistered ears were the surest sign yet that Williams had recovered from his recent bout with pneumonia and was ready to become the Terps' emotional fuse again. Which was good news for the Terps and, well, pretty good news for Simpkins.

Williams is harder on Simpkins than he is on the rest of the Terps combined. Williams was the Terps' point guard for three years in the '60s and has firm opinions about how the position should be played. Simpkins, a junior, hasn't always agreed with them.

"It hasn't been easy," Simpkins said before last night's West Regional semifinal between the Terps and Connecticut. "There were times when I could barely take his yelling. But he's the coach, so I have to take it."

Theirs is a love-hate relationship in which neither hides his feelings.

Williams almost gets misty-eyed talking about Simpkins' decision to come to Maryland three years ago, a decision that Williams says was the first step in the Terps' turnaround.

On the other hand, Williams recently responded to a question about Simpkins' play with a sigh, a dismissive wave of the hand and this noncommittal answer: "Oh, Duane's OK."

Simpkins openly admits that Williams' yelling drives him nuts -- "there are times when I just have to tune it out" -- yet credits his coach with inspiring him to run the offense with the verve Williams wants. ("Something was missing when he wasn't there.")

At the root of their disagreement in Williams' insistence that a point guard's primary responsibility is to run the offense, not score. Simpkins balked at the idea for a long time.

"Duane is like a lot of players; he likes to score," Williams said. "But he's coming around. I think he understands now."

Simpkins agrees. "I know where coach is coming from," he said. "I know what he wants from me."

Of course, what the coach also wants is perfect ball-handling, which no player can deliver. Williams likes his point guard to make sound decisions. Simpkins, though sound enough, likes to take chances.

Such chances that fail are the mistakes that most often cause Williams to palpitate and shout angrily on the sidelines.

"I can't say that I'll ever get used to it," Simpkins said. "But I can live with it. I know now not to take it personally."

They agree on one point: Simpkins' importance to the Terps' postseason chances. He is the smallest of the starters and has the lowest scoring average, yet the Terps go as he goes, particularly in the NCAA tournament.

fTC "Other players can get you here," Williams said, "but you really need a good point guard to do anything once you're here. Because you need smart decisions from the player with the ball."

Simpkins has proved this theory correct in his two years of NCAA tournament performances.

A year ago, he was brilliant in the Terps' second-round upset of Massachusetts, contributing 20 points and six assists. Then he missed 10 of 13 shots in the loss to Michigan in the regional semifinals.

Last weekend, he bailed out the struggling Terps in their first-round game against Gonzaga, scoring 21 points and taking over with his defense.

Then he struggled (six points, five turnovers) against Texas, and the Terps needed a late rally to eliminate a clearly inferior team.

How he fared against UConn's high-pressure defense last night would do much to determine whether the Terps won.

Of course, no matter how well or poorly he plays, he's always going to hear about it. Loud and clear.

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