2 Terps have come farther than most Jasikevicius, Ekezie provide Maryland foreign influence

Players grow, prosper

UM will need both as it faces Arizona

March 18, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Sarunas Jasikevicius used to call his toes fingers. Obinna Ekezie bungled a phrase two years ago, but responded to his teammates' derision with some incredibly untrashy talk.

"I remember his freshman year, the players were laughing because Obinna used some slang in the wrong way," Gary Williams said. "He stood up in the locker room and said 'I want you to remember one thing, I speak the King's English.' Nobody said anything after that."

Ekezie and Jasikevicius have familiarized themselves with the vernacular, and become fluent in basketball, too.

Williams understands that the Maryland team he coaches probably wouldn't be facing Arizona tomorrow in the West Region semifinals without its strong foreign influence.

"It's great to see guys like Obinna and Sarunas succeed," Williams said, "because it can't be as easy for them as it is for the guys from here."

Jasikevicius is a senior guard from Kaunas, Lithuania, where the economic system collapsed along with the Berlin Wall. Ekezie, the junior center from Port Harcourt, Nigeria, is the son of a petroleum engineer, and he has educated his coach and teammates as much as they have him.

Maryland is a bit behind the curve when it comes to major-college teams finding talent overseas. North Carolina, Arkansas and UCLA had varying degrees of foreign help in winning national championships in the 1990s.

The way shoe money and summer tournaments have escalated in the states, 14-year-olds are going to be demanding limousine service from recruiters soon. Foreign players, on the other hand, are receptive to any attention from college coaches.

"They're not spoiled," Williams said. "Nobody gave them anything. They weren't promised anything."

Ekezie and Jasikevicius are the two most accomplished imports ever to come to Maryland, but it's not like Cole Field House's proximity to Washington, D.C., has attracted much foreign talent. Williams recruited Nemanja Petrovic out of Yugoslavia in 1992, but he transferred to St. Joseph's after earning one letter.

"I don't think I recruited any foreign players when I was at Boston College or Ohio State," Williams said. "It's a little different with these two, because they were already over here."

Jasikevicius came to the United States in 1993, and found a second home in Lancaster (Pa.) County. He wasn't considered the recruiting prize in the Solanco High backcourt -- Johnny Miller played at Temple before transferring to Clemson -- but Jasikevicius has been a solid two-year starter for Maryland.

Jasikevicius is proud of the progress he's made as an all-around player, but Williams was initially won over by his shooting, and that stroke has only gotten better.

He's made 40.1 percent of his shots beyond the three-point arc this season; Duane Simpkins is the only other Terp over the past decade to attempt 100 three-pointers in a season and make 40 percent.

Jasikevicius made all four of his threes last Saturday against Illinois, but also hit a big foul-line jumper off the dribble with 1: 15 left.

"I've worked on that in the summer," Jasikevicius said. "The last two summers, I haven't spent much time in Lithuania."

Before Ekezie added to his game, he first had to subtract, specifically 25-30 pounds of baby fat. He learned the rudiments at Worcester (Mass.) Academy, the same prep school that sent Mike Mardesich to Maryland, and Ekezie soaks up basketball knowledge like a sponge.

"When I started playing, I didn't know much," Ekezie said. "What really helped me was that I listened a lot, I watched a lot of TV. I tried to learn from players at every level. I wanted to listen and learn. Most players from overseas have done the same."

Ekezie polished his game against NBA talents like Chris Webber during summer pick-up games at Cole, and he keeps showing off new tricks.

Against Illinois, he made six free throws in as many attempts in the last two minutes, which decided the second-round game. All Jasikevicius did was score a game-high 20 points.

"Those guys were willing to learn, and now they're great players," said Matt Kovarik, the fifth-year senior guard who saw both arrive at Maryland.

"I don't think we saw them as any different from any of us. `D Sarunas' English wasn't great, but we helped him with the language. Obinna hadn't played much, but you can see that's changed."

The imports have added shooting, rebounds and a sense of humor to Maryland. Last Friday in Sacramento, as the 6-foot-10 Ekezie entertained a media conference with an explanation of his family tree, he expertly mixed his slang and King's English.

"My dad was -- and is -- 5-6," Ekezie said. "He's not going to get any taller. The height in the family passed his generation. My dad got the short end of the stick."

In Ekezie and Jasikevicius, Maryland didn't.

Terps tomorrow

8, Who: Maryland (21-10) vs. Arizona (29-4)

What: NCAA tournament West Regional semifinals

Where: Anaheim, Calif.

When: 10: 25 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Arizona by 8

Tomorrow's other TV game

North Carolina (32-3) vs. Mich. State (22-7), 7: 39 p.m.

Friday's TV games

Duke (31-3) vs. Syracuse (26-8), 7: 39 p.m.

Kentucky (31-4) vs. UCLA (24-8), 9: 59 p.m.

All games on chs. 13, 9

Pub Date: 3/18/98

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