Profit takes out trash Terp in transition: Emerging freshman retains flamboyance, but sheds menacing prep persona.

March 13, 1996|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Laron Profit used to dribble just to dribble. Behind-the-back dribbles, crossover dribbles, anything to be flashy and noticed.

He used to stare a lot, too. "A vicious stare," he called it. Like when he'd block another player's shot, or throw down a thunderous dunk.

Then there was the talking trash-talking, actually. "I talked loudly," Profit said. And often, apparently.

That was the old Laron Profit, the pre-Maryland Profit. Hardly recognizable from the still-flamboyant freshman who has made his mark in Maryland's run to an NCAA tournament date Friday in Tempe, Ariz., against Santa Clara.

A precocious 18-year-old, Profit came up big for the Terps in must-win games against Florida State (22 points) in the season finale and Duke (19 points) in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

He plays with an uncommon flair and untapped potential, but without the antagonism that accompanied his storied days at Caesar Rodney High School in Dover, Del.

There, opponents saw Profit as arrogant and overbearing because of his demeanor on the court.

"There was a perception of that," Jeff Savage, Profit's high school coach, said yesterday. "Laron liked the showy, flashy, baggy pants. He liked the black socks, the exclamation point dunk, the Dickie V mentality. He got into that.

"But by no stretch was he an obnoxious kid. He had a little bit of flair, but he wasn't a nasty kid, he wasn't belligerent."

He was, instead, a very good player who let his emotions out in huge bursts. He came into basketball prominence at a time when Michigan's Fab Five was the rage, and Profit was quick to fall in line behind the admirers.

"The Fab Five was out, showing emotion was out," Profit said. "I loved the Fab Five. It was the whole Michigan style. The black socks thing, black sneakers, pants long and baggy. I tried to emulate those guys."

It was his junior year in high school. Profit says now he made a teen-ager's mistake with his excessive behavior.

"I was young, I was becoming a star at that point," he said. "I just handled it the wrong way. I took the confidence thing too far. People took it the wrong way. They thought I was arrogant. My senior year, I toned it down. Showmanship and flamboyancy are still a part of my game."

Showmanship? The 6-foot-6 Profit has transformed his fingers into make-believe pistols and fired at the Cole Field House crowd after hitting a big three-pointer this season. He has alley-ooped and played point guard and hit three-pointers and rebounded and stolen passes for the Terps.

He is just beginning to scratch the surface of what could be a piece of basketball artwork.

"My perception is Laron will be able to go as far as he wants to go," Savage said. "The only thing holding Laron back is Laron. The sky's the limit . . . if he continues to work hard and listens to what Gary [Williams, coach] has to say."

Profit's career at Caesar Rodney was even pockmarked by clashes with his coach. Savage put Profit on the junior-varsity team as a freshman, even though he clearly had the talent to play with the varsity. "I wanted him to get more mature," Savage said.

By the end of Profit's sophomore year, he was the team's starting point guard. By the end of his senior year, he was a wing guard tearing up the state. But Profit was not voted the player of the year in Delaware because of a glaring injustice in the vote by coaches and sportswriters.

"Don't get me started on that," Savage said. "He dominated at our level."

It was during his time in Dover that Profit first began to be compared to Walt Williams, who starred for Maryland and now plays for the Miami Heat. Both players were tall and lanky, and both could handle the ball or rebound it. Williams even played some point guard for the Terps.

"That came up in high school," Savage said. "It had to do with the physical ability. And they were built similarly."

Profit ultimately worked out his differences with Savage "In the end, we learned to appreciate each other," Profit said and the player talks to his former coach at least one a month.

What helped was that Profit came from a close family. His father is in the Air Force, and his mother is deeply religious.

"We were 9-14 this year, so obviously I missed his abilities," Savage said. "But I really miss him as a person. He comes from a wonderful family. His mother and father were very supportive. In the vernacular of the kids, she didn't take no mess.

"The biggest thing that impresses me about Laron is the package. He's athletic, he can play, and he's very personable. He can go to a group of kids and talk to the kids. He can go to a group of adults and talk to the adults.

"He's academically capable. He could have been in the National Honor Society if he had wanted. He's very intelligent. He had over 1,000 on his SATs."

Profit's early months at Maryland were difficult, too. Flush with the confidence of youth, he had long stretches of bench time before he finally got a chance to play in February. He made the most of it, getting nine points and five assists against Georgia Tech, 10 points and six steals against Wake Forest, 11 points and five assists against North Carolina State. Then came his breakout game against Florida State.

His time has seemingly come at Maryland. Will success go to Laron Profit's young head?

"No," he says evenly. "It can't. With the parents I have, they will quickly make me realize I lost focus of who I am. I'll never lose focus."

For Maryland, it is a heady promise.

Pub Date: 3/13/96

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