Cason dives right in Tigers get the point

Freshman guard gives Towson new attitude

November 18, 1996|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

To Damon Cason, it seemed like a good idea at the time. There was a loose ball on the floor, he wanted it, and the only chance he had was to dive for it.

Cason, the former All-Metro point guard at Southern High, never imagined that he would go sliding underneath the scorer's table. And he certainly had no idea the only thing his hustle would bring was a separated shoulder.

Three games into his freshman season at Towson State, and Cason was about to trade in his Tigers uniform for a medical redshirt.

"It was frustrating," he said, "but I just had to deal with it."

Could there be a Towson player more eager for this season to begin than Damon Cason?

He's still considered a freshman, but he's ready to lead. And coach Terry Truax may have little choice but to let him, even with all the backcourt options at his disposal.

"Damon's a point specialist," Truax said.

He looked pretty special in the Tigers exhibition game last week against Team Champion, collecting eight points, three rebounds, three assists and a steal in 16 minutes.

He hit a three-pointer, made a hanging jumper, and stole the ball and fed Florian Schneider for a dunk -- all during a brief period in the first half. But more entertaining was the no-look pass to Ryan Lexer for a basket, and the 2-on-1 fast break when he faked a pass to his right, lost the defender and went in for a layup.

Truax already had seen Cason's ability to take charge long before this game. "He practiced the last couple of weeks of last season, and I was really impressed with his leadership, more so than the seniors. He really seemed hungry, and that carried over," Truax said.

Cason still is working his way back into playing shape. "It was tough in the summer leagues; it was hard for me to get up and down the court," he said. "But over the course of the preseason, I wouldn't say my conditioning is good, but I'd say fair."

He's been working just as hard to upgrade his jump shot, which is a bit unorthodox and drew some criticism from recruiters. He stays after practice with assistant coach Fred Quartlebaum, taking 200 to 300 shots each session.

"I'm getting my confidence back. It's starting to click," he said.

Cason's competition for playing time at the point this season comes mostly from Michael Keyes, one of only two seniors on the team, along with Schneider, who's being tried at shooting guard rather than his more natural small forward position.

"It's not a situation where he [Cason] has been beaten out," Truax said. "It's just that, as of right now, we'll go with two seniors. We're certainly not going to bench Mickey [Keyes]. If Florian doesn't prove to be the '2' guard, then probably we'll go with Damon at the point and Mickey at the '2.' "

There are plenty of backcourt options for Truax, and among them is pairing Cason with freshman Marlin Wise, a two-year starter at Southern. Roommates at Towson, they entered last week's exhibition together, and Wise finished with six points, three rebounds and three assists in 17 minutes.

"He's definitely a point, but he can play '2,' " Truax said of Wise. "He's probably the quickest guy we have with the ball in his hands, taking it to the basket. And he's making pretty good decisions. He's also a capable scorer, he just didn't shoot a lot for Southern."

Wise, who averaged more than 14 points, 13 assists, seven rebounds and two steals as a high school senior, said he got by at Southern mainly on his athletic ability. But it's a different story in college. "You need to rely on fundamentals to get you over," he said.

He played the point at Southern after Cason left and prefers staying there because "I like to be a leader, with the ball in my hands and making the decisions."

But Wise will do whatever is asked, just give him the minutes. Spending them on the floor with Cason seems like old times.

"Whoever's got the ball in their hands, we know what decision they're going to make. We know each other's game," Cason said.

"He's a teammate first," Wise said, "then he's like a mentor. When I'm down on myself at practice, he'll tap me on the back and say, 'Don't worry about it. It'll be better tomorrow.' He's always behind me. It's like having a family member at practice."

"They've both got tremendous potential," assistant coach Jim Meil said. "Marlin's a little quicker, Damon's a little more finesse. But they play really well together. Their futures are unlimited and there will be quite a bit of time when they're playing together, not just this year, but over the course of their careers here."

The twosome is part of what Truax calls "a pretty good mixture" on a team chosen to finish seventh in America East.

"It's just a matter of putting it together and working as a unit," Truax said. "What I like most about this group is they seem very receptive to teaching and coaching and learning."

If Cason and Wise can meet their vast potential, the Tigers may do some winning, too.

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