Terps' Stokes must step up or sit down

March 07, 1997|By KEN ROSENTHAL

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Terrell Stokes needs to get it together, and fast.

If he doesn't play well in the ACC and NCAA tournaments, Laron Profit could replace him as Maryland's starting point guard next season.

Heck, coach Gary Williams might have considered the change this season, but his team played so well for so long, he couldn't justify the move.

Perhaps Williams should have benched Stokes and moved Rodney Elliott into the starting lineup, with Profit, Matt Kovarik and Sarunas Jasikevicius sharing time at the point.

But Williams apparently feared disrupting the team's chemistry so late in the season, even as the Terps lost seven of their final 10 games.

Where does this leave Stokes?

About to play the biggest game of his Maryland career, against Clemson and Terrell McIntyre today in the first round of the ACC tournament.

Point guards assume an even greater importance at tournament time, but over the past month, Stokes has been one of the least effective in the ACC.

And next season, with Juan Dixon, Terence Morris and Laron Cephas joining Maryland, Williams will have the depth to make Profit his principal ball-handler.

Stokes and fellow sophomore Obinna Ekezie are Maryland's biggest disappointments. The difference: Ekezie almost certainly will get better, and Stokes appears to be regressing.

McIntyre torched him for 21 points when these teams met Feb. 8, including 16 in the second half and nine during a 10-0 run that broke the game open.

Williams said Stokes wasn't solely to blame -- Clemson sets so many screens for McIntyre, Maryland needs to provide better help on defense.

Frankly, Stokes is more of a problem on offense. Opponents view him as so minimal a threat, they've stopped guarding him closely.

In essence, the Terps are playing four-on-five, increasing the burden on Keith Booth, their undersized power forward and leading scorer.

"With the way this team has evolved, it's not fair to ask Terrell to get 20 points," Williams said. "But if he can get 10 points -- if we can get more than Laron and Keith in double figures -- it helps Keith especially.

"They have to respect other people. They can't just collapse on Keith when he gets the ball."

Stokes scored earlier in the season, reaching double figures in 10 of Maryland's first 15 games. But in the past 14 games, he has done it only twice.

He's averaging 8.1 points, but that number drops to 7.6 in the ACC and 5.0 against Clemson. And Stokes is playing 33 minutes per game.

We know what those finicky Maryland fans are thinking:

Where have you gone, Duane Simpkins?

For all his faults at the point, Simpkins was Maryland's third-leading scorer last season. Stokes doesn't create his shots, and rarely takes them when open.

He'll tell you, "If the scoring opportunity is there, you have to score, to keep the defense honest." But in the next breath, he'll add, "I don't think I have to score more."

"Scoring isn't everything," Stokes said. "These days, you've got to know how to play the game, how to pass, how to defend."

All that is true -- and Stokes is the classic Philadelphia point guard who looks to pass first and shoot second. He never averaged more than 13 points per game in high school. But now, he appears overmatched.

He emerged as the anti-Simpkins last season, distributing the ball, controlling the game. But it turns out he isn't a dynamic penetrator. In fact, he might not be quick enough or athletic enough to handle the point long-term.

Naturally, Stokes sees it differently.

"I think I can do better," he said. "A lot of people say I'm ahead of my years, I'm real mature as a sophomore. But I think I can get better in a lot of areas."

The kid does not lack confidence. Remember how fearlessly he played last season against Stephon Marbury? But lately, Stokes has been jawing too much with rival point guards, getting so caught up in personal battles, his play suffers.

"For us to be good, Terrell has to run our offense, run our fast break, really get the ball to other people and play good defense," Williams said. "Obviously, Keith is the major factor in the team this year. But when Terrell plays well, we're a pretty good team."

When Terrell plays well? At this point, it's if Terrell plays well. And he isn't likely to rebound in the ACC or NCAA tournaments, where teams play more of a half-court game.

Thus, all signs point to a reduced role for Stokes next season. Williams once used 6-foot-8 Walt Williams at the point. Profit, 6-6, is better off the dribble than Williams was at this stage, and a better passer. He'd also be surrounded by better players.

The Maryland media guide describes Stokes as "an All-ACC candidate as the top point guard in the ACC." Yet, Stokes didn't receive a single vote in the all-ACC balloting.

He needs to get it together, and fast.

Suddenly, he looks like a replaceable part.

Pub Date: 3/07/97

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