New Terps wonder: Where's Joe?

April 12, 1995|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Contributing Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- There were no high-fives or introductions when Laron Profit and Obinna Ekezie walked onto the Cole Field House court for the first time together.

Profit and Ekezie will spend many hours getting acquainted in Cole. Both were Maryland's early signees in November and are playing for the U.S. All-Stars in the Capital Classic tomorrow. Although they are strangers now, they share the same concern: Will sophomore center Joe Smith be back next season?

Smith, who received national Player of the Year awards from the Associated Press and the Atlanta Tip-off Club, could announce his plans at the Maryland basketball banquet tonight, but has until May 15 to declare for the NBA draft.

If Smith leaves the Terps, Ekezie's role could shift from backup to starter. Ekezie, a 6-foot-9, 265-pound center, started playing basketball only two years ago when he moved from Nigeria to Worcester Academy in Massachusetts.

"I didn't expect Joe to think about leaving until after his junior year," said Ekezie, who committed to the Terps on Nov. 16, the last day of the early signing period. "It would put a lot of pressure on me if he goes. I thought I would be backing up Joe when I signed."

Ekezie immediately should help Maryland in rebounding with his wide-frame body that outweighs every current Terp by at least 30 pounds. With his inexperience and suspect shooting, Ekezie acknowledges he is a project.

"If he stays or if he goes, I hope to work with Joe during the summer," Ekezie said. "I know it will take time to adjust because this level is definitely a lot better than what I played against."

Profit is more polished at this stage, averaging more than 20 points in his junior and senior years at Cesar Rodney High in Dover, Del. At 6-6, Profit can handle the ball, starting at point guard in high school.

For the Terps, Profit should fit in as a swingman. He has quickness to slash to the basket, and uses his athleticism to score inside.

Although Smith's decision won't affect Profit's role next season, Profit has mixed opinions about the possible departure of Smith.

"As a freshman coming into the program, my feelings are two-sided," said Profit, who signed on Nov. 9. "When I decided to come here, I knew we could be successful. But with Joe here, I know it'll be easier to be successful and get to the Final Four. On the other hand, I want Joe to do what's best for himself."

Maryland coach Gary Williams said he is looking to sign another big man during the spring signing period, which began yesterday. If Smith leaves, there will be three scholarships available. With his two early signees, Williams has added some height to the frontcourt and quickness to the bench.

Ekezie provides the big, tall body the Terps have lacked to complement the agile front court of Smith, Exree Hipp and Keith Booth. With his lanky build and speed, Profit is a blend of Johnny Rhodes and Hipp.

Profit said he wants to begin his career off the bench, a place where some recent Terps freshmen haven't had the luxury to start their careers.

"I bring a lot of versatility here," Profit said. "I know I can shoot and drive to help the team. But I came here to really learn, especially during my first year here."

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