Pumped-up Elliott gives lift to Terps Off-season work pays for 6-8 junior reserve

December 21, 1996|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- It was almost a year ago today that Maryland's Rodney Elliott made his second collegiate start, against American University. Fresh off a career-high 15 points against Rider the previous week, he had earned a place in the Terrapins' lineup.

He didn't stay there.

Elliott started six straight games, then gave way to freshman Obinna Ekezie and returned to a reserve role, which he filled the remainder of the season. And when No. 25 Maryland plays American today at Cole Field House, the Dunbar alumnus again will be coming off the bench.

That's quite a difference from last year at this time, but it makes little difference to Elliott, who's averaging 9.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and about 24 minutes a game.

"Every player wants to start, but I just want to come in and contribute as much as I can to the team, just playing my best for however long I'm in there. When game time comes, I'm ready," he said.

The 6-foot-8 junior has started once this year, against California in the opening round of the Franklin National Bank Classic at USAir Arena. Replacing Laron Profit, who began the game on the bench for disciplinary reasons, he had 11 points and six rebounds in Maryland's 80-64 win.

Elliott has reached double figures in scoring five times this season, including 12 points in each of Maryland's last two games, against George Washington and Georgia Tech. He pulled down a career-high nine rebounds last month against Howard, and his four assists against Georgia Tech also were a personal best.

The Terps (7-0) are off to their finest start since 1975-76, and Elliott's hasn't been too shabby, either.

"Every player wants to contribute on a consistent basis," Elliott said. "Some days, you might not have a big game from Laron Profit or Keith Booth. You need other guys who can come in and do the things they've been doing throughout the season. And so far, I've been playing on a consistent level. Hopefully, I can stay healthy and keep that up."

"Rodney's playing great," said guard Sarunas Jasikevicius, who was Elliott's roommate during their freshman year. "His confidence is up and he's one of the players the team can count on night in and night out. He'll come in and give you 100 percent every time, no matter how he feels."

"He's gotten better, without question, every day," said Booth, a teammate of Elliott's at Dunbar. "He's much stronger than what he was when he first came here. Before, he might have been only bench-pressing like 200, 215 pounds. Now, he's up to like 300 pounds."

That didn't happen by accident. Elliott, who averaged 4.9 points last season and 1.4 as a freshman, worked out three times a week with strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt after returning from summer break and increased his weight by 10 pounds to 226.

He also shot about 100 free throws each day, which has enabled him to make 23 of 30 (76.7 percent) this season. His career percentage at Maryland before this season was .604.

"Since the loss to Santa Clara last year [in the first round of the NCAA tournament], I've been working hard on my outside shot, and along with that goes a lot of free-throw shooting," he said. "If you get fouled inside, you have to go to the line and stick them. I worked hard on that in the off-season and that enables you to have that confidence to go to the line and make them."

Bulking up was a necessity. When 7-foot freshman Mike Mardesich announced before the season that he wanted to red-shirt, Elliott was assured of more minutes in the middle.

"You need that extra poundage in the paint to be banging. There's no question I feel stronger," he said.

"I'm comfortable at center, as far as knowing the plays, knowing what to do, knowing where to be, knowing how to guard the other team's big man. Obviously, my strength is at the 4 position, but I'll play center or the 4, anything [coach Gary Williams] wants me to play to make this team a winning one."

Said Williams: "The big thing with Rodney is he really believes in himself, and part of that is he's worked very hard in the weight room to get stronger. He's not starting right now, but he had 30 zTC minutes against George Washington. We're really playing six guys in a rotation and Rodney's one of the six.

"It's the progression you like to see in a player. He's gotten better every year and now I think he feels very comfortable as an ACC player."

Pub Date: 12/21/96

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