Disappointed Terps will cope with less seniority next year Losing 4 players to change team look, Booth's role

March 17, 1996|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

TEMPE, Ariz. - His season had been over for almost an hour, and Gary Williams still was putting it to rest outside Maryland's cramped locker room late Friday afternoon.

Asked if he had any changes in mind for his Maryland basketball program, Williams paused only slightly.

L "Probably parking procedures," he said with a straight face.

When Maryland's crucible finally had ended in a first-round knockout against Santa Clara in the NCAA tournament's West Regional, the Terps coach could at last share a light moment from its darkest hour.

Maryland's season was like surgery. Everyone on the team survived, but there are a lot of scars still showing.

The Terps led the Atlantic Coast Conference in steals, expectations and parking tickets. They briefly suspended two seniors and desperately missed a would-be junior operating in the NBA this season. They were often either strikingly good, or numbingly bad, and their 17-13 record served to underscore the point.

What's more, the coach who rescued the team from the doldrums of NCAA sanctions found himself under siege for a recruiting record that brought freshmen Terrell Stokes, Laron Profit and Obinna Ekezie into the program this season.

Stranded in the desert yesterday waiting for a charter to take the Terps home, Williams defended himself against an article in the ACC Sports Journal. The unbylined story began with an allegation that Williams failed to recognize Ekezie after a game at Cole Field House last season even though the Terps had been recruiting him for months. It also characterized Williams' overall recruiting efforts as less than zealous.

"It wasn't true," Williams said of the Ekezie charge. "I set up a trip to see him, and I knew who he was before he made that visit. It was complete lies.

"I recruited Jim Jackson [at Ohio State], Joe Smith, Keith Booth. I've recruited great players, as good as anybody else. This year's class probably ranks third in the ACC."

Williams has been under scrutiny for getting shut out in the fall recruiting period. Clemson was the only other ACC school that failed to sign a recruit, and the Tigers have only one scholarship to give for next season.

Williams has four to give "three [signees] would be good, if it's the right three." And he said the criticism over the fall period is unjust.

"They don't have to be [in College Park] until September," he said.

His argument notwithstanding, Williams needs to come out of the spring signing period with a few key additions. At the top of the wish list are a big man and a shooting guard.

The quality big man appears unlikely Jermaine O'Neal of Columbia, S.C., is a questionable qualifier and is expected to stay at home with South Carolina, anyway.

Barring a surprise there, the Terps could go with Booth, Ekezie and 6-foot-10 transfer Brian Watkins in the frontcourt next year, backed by Rodney Elliott. Williams predicts a "monster year" for Booth, the 6-5 power forward, and said he should get time on the wing at small forward.

The backcourt will start with Stokes at the point and Profit on the wing, although Williams said he will give Sarunas Jasikevicius a "legitimate look" at the off-guard position. Matt Kovarik also returns from a medical redshirt season.

That represents a talented nucleus, but there is room for improvement.

"We have to shoot it better," Williams said. "We had too many games like [the 91-79 loss to Santa Clara], where we shot 38 or 40 percent. You have to do too many other things well [to make up for poor shooting].

"We have to be a better rebounding team. Defensively, we weren't able to stop people. Our best defense was our press, and that shouldn't be. Your best defense should be the drop-back defense, whether zone or man."

The Terps enter a new era next season, minus the four seniors who played in three straight NCAA tournaments. Can the Terps go back next year?

"I think we can," Williams said. "We'll be a different team with no preconceived notions of how we should be. Keith will be a senior and there won't be a lot of old guys.

"Next year, we'll be hungry, especially after this. After being in the Sweet 16, you don't like to get knocked out in the first round."

Terps turnover

The loss of four key seniors will leave Maryland with a different look next season. So far, the only newcomer is Brian Watkins, a 6-foot-10 transfer from Notre Dame. Maryland's top returning players for next season:

Pos. .... Player ........... Year

F ...... Keith Booth ........ Sr.

F ...... Rodney Elliott ..... Jr.

C ...... Obinna Ekezie .... Soph.

G ...... Terrell Stokes ... Soph.

G ...... Laron Profit ..... Soph.

G .. Sarunas Jasikevicius ... Jr.

G ...... Matt Kovarik ....... Jr.

Pub Date: 3/17/96

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