In middle, Terps have room to grow

March 07, 1998|By John Eisenberg

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Hey, Laron Profit, what's it like being the Maryland Terrapins in the Atlantic Coast Conference this year?

"It's like being the middle child that no one pays attention to," Profit said yesterday after the Terps drilled Georgia Tech in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament.

The middle child?

"Yeah," Profit said. "Duke and North Carolina are the oldest. All the teams below us are the youngest. We're alone in the middle, getting no attention."


"Not much."

OK, how do you get more?

"The middle child," Profit said with a smile, "goes out and gets arrested or something."

Maybe we should phrase that another way. In this case, the middle child just keeps winning until an increase in attention becomes inevitable.

That's happening to the Terps at the best possible time, as the crunch days of March arrive.

They're winning, they're playing well and they're closing in on a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament, with a No. 3 still a possibility.

After a season in the shadows -- no Sports Illustrated, no "SportsCenter" -- they're on the verge of becoming politically correct.

They aren't Carolina or Duke, who have spent all season at the top of the national polls, but they did win 10 of 16 conference games, upset Kansas and Carolina and finish the regular season with 11 wins in their last 15 games. Yesterday's win pushed their record to 19-9, with six of the nine losses against probable NCAA teams.

"People don't realize how good Maryland is," Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins said yesterday. "How many [ACC] teams had a losing record in the conference? Six. We all know two [of the three] that didn't, but people forget about Maryland. They have gotten lost in the shuffle because of Duke and Carolina."

And they're loving it.

That's right, the Terps are loving life as the middle child, the overlooked team not getting the respect it thinks it deserves.

"We're the ACC's Rodney Dangerfields," Profit said. "It's kind of fun."

It's the cheapest of all motivational ploys, of course. Not getting enough respect? Well, there aren't many people in this world who do. Michael Jordan. Robert DeNiro. We can add Hermann Maier to the list after he walked away from that skiing crash in the Olympics. But everyone else, no exceptions, is overworked, underpaid and underappreciated. Just ask them.

But the fact that it's a tired ploy doesn't mean it's ineffective.

The Terps are riding the respect angle hard these days, and it's working pretty well.

"If you're a player," Terps coach Gary Williams said, "there's no better motivation that thinking you have to prove something. I hear what [his players] are saying. I don't mind it."

He had better not mind because, fairly or not, the Terps are feeling it. None of them made the All-ACC first or second teams. Nor did any make an all-defensive team voted on by the head coaches. Profit, who leads the conference in steals, was named on only two of nine ballots.

"Business as usual," Profit said with a shrug.

How much are these slights, real or imagined, motivating the Terps?

"It's the motivation right now," Profit said. "When we're alone, we talk about going out and proving people wrong."

Who are these "people"? Rival ACC players?

"Oh, no," Profit said. "They respect us, we know that. But the fans down here [in North Carolina, the heart of the ACC] really don't. And the media hasn't paid much attention to us, either."

It's easy to reach that conclusion on Tobacco Road, where Duke, Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest dominate all basketball talk and the rest of the ACC is regarded as little more than a collection of foils.

"I went to the mall," Profit said, "and people came up to me and said, 'You know, you guys really aren't that bad, but we don't know too much about you.'"

Hey, that constitutes high praise for an outsider around here.

"There are a lot of people around here who can't see anything beyond Duke and Carolina," Terps center Obinna Ekezie said. "Don't get me wrong, Duke and Carolina deserve everything they get. But we're not bad, either."

The Terps can't complain too much, given how they played on Tobacco Road this year. They beat State, but they lost to Wake, Duke and Carolina by a combined 57 points.

They'll have to do better if they want more respect, and they know it.

Their next chance comes today against Carolina in an ACC tournament semifinal. The Terps don't have any tangible motivation left after beating Tech to uphold their No. 3 seed in the ACC tournament, which was all they were supposed to do in a field with Carolina and Duke.

But even though they have accomplished their goal for the weekend as far as their NCAA bid is concerned, they'll take the floor playing for a higher cause.

"We want people around the country to know that there is more to the ACC than Carolina and Duke," Profit said. "I don't think anyone does think that, at this point. We would love to open some eyes."

Pub Date: 3/07/98

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