Terps' Elliott is confident his playing time will come Sophomore from Dunbar accepts reduced role

February 09, 1996|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- It was over before he knew it. Rodney Elliott's reign as starting center at Maryland lasted a mere six games.

But don't expect to hear the 6-foot-8 sophomore from Dunbar complain.

Elliott was the man who succeeded Mario Lucas, who succeeded Joe Smith, whose reign lasted two years.

After Obinna Ekezie became the starter eight games ago, it seemed as if Elliott had vanished completely. Until Tuesday in Chapel Hill, N.C., anyway, when he delivered two big first-half baskets in an 84-78 upset of North Carolina.

Elliott scored on a put-back of a missed free throw by Johnny Rhodes, then, moments later, scored in the paint with an assist from Rhodes as Maryland wiped out a 20-12 deficit.

"It always feels good when you come off the bench and do something positive in any game, but more so in that game," he said as the Terps prepared for tomorrow's Atlantic Coast Conference game at Florida State.

Elliott's opportunities have been few since coach Gary Williams committed to using Ekezie, a 6-9, 260-pound wide-body, in the low post in the aftermath of a loss at Wake Forest. His playing time dropped drastically -- from an average of 21.8 minutes as a starter to 5.8 as a backup center/power forward. And he didn't play at all in the North Carolina State game.

But Elliott, 21, has accepted his new role with grace, determined that new opportunity will come.

"It's been tough because I always want to play," he said. "I have to deal with it. I'm not one to come out and complain because we're winning right now, so we've got to stick with what's working.

"I'm the kind of person who sucks it up -- I don't worry about it. My time will come. Like it did this year, after sitting on the bench last year. And I'm sure it will come around again."

Once Elliott was removed from the lineup, his minutes were further diminished with the inspired play of former Dunbar teammate Keith Booth and the occasional hot hand by Lucas.

"Rodney's minutes will be there depending on how the game goes," Williams said. "Like we needed him [against Carolina] and I thought he had a big contribution. With Florida State's size and the quickness of some of their inside players, I wouldn't be surprised if we use Rodney there, too.

"Things work out some ways that are best for some players, [and] not best for others. But Rodney's an important player. He's just a sophomore and he's going to have a great career."

Elliott says he has not given in to temptation.

"I've stuck through it mentally," he said. "I just hope we can continue what we're dong now. We're playing well and getting good quality minutes out of guys coming off the bench."

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