Williams defends so-so UM grade in graduation report Many players going pro skews Terps' rate in basketball, coach says

November 11, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

The University of Maryland men's basketball program received mixed reviews in the graduation rate report released last weekend by the NCAA, but coach Gary Williams criticized the association's methodology and showed that nearly two-thirds of his seniors have received degrees.

The most recent data compiled by the NCAA tracked the number of scholarship athletes who entered college in the fall of 1991, and how many received degrees in six years.

Of the five freshmen who got scholarships in that class, two graduated in six years, and that rate of 40 percent ranked fifth among the nine schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference. From 1988-91, three of 13 Terps recruits received degrees in six years, and that rate, 23.1 percent, ranked next to last in the ACC, ahead of only Clemson's.

"I'm very happy with our graduation rate, when you talk about our seniors," said Gary Williams, who has been Maryland's coach since 1989. "I have had one player miss the first four games of a season for academics, but I have never had a player academically ineligible by NCAA standards."

According to data supplied by Williams, his first nine Maryland teams had 29 seniors, and 19 have earned a degree from the university. Five of the 19 with degrees were walk-ons.

Two-thirds of the players who transferred to Maryland in that four-year period earned degrees within the NCAA's timeline. However, the NCAA graduation rates do not include transfers from junior colleges and other colleges, nor walk-ons.

The NCAA does not credit colleges when scholarship student-athletes take more than six years to get a degree, or when they receive a degree from another college.

"If you start in the ACC, you have a chance to play and make money somewhere," Williams said. "It's very difficult for a kid who makes good academic progress for four years, who's nine or 12 credits shy of a degree. All of a sudden he's in Europe, making $100,000 a year, and it's hard for him to come back."

That scenario will adversely affect Maryland's numbers in next year's NCAA report. Williams brought in five scholarship freshmen in 1992. Nemanja Petrovic transferred to St. Joseph's, and Exree Hipp, Mario Lucas, Johnny Rhodes and Duane Simpkins all sought pro careers overseas. By last summer, none had degrees from Maryland within the NCAA's six-year window, so the Terps will show a graduation rate of 0 percent in men's basketball in the 1999 report.

"That one class all had a chance to play [professionally]," Williams said. "I want those guys to come back. I'm disappointed they haven't come back. I think they will. They will [graduate] in time, but it's not time enough to satisfy a lot of people," he said, referring to the six-year time frame in the NCAA's methodology.

Of the 24 scholarship players who entered the university as freshmen or transfers in Williams' first five seasons, from 1989-93, eight have Maryland degrees. Attrition hurt while the program dealt with probation for NCAA violations that predated Williams' arrival; five players from his first three recruiting classes left before their eligibility was completed.

Only one player from the four recruiting classes from 1994 to '97 has left the program. Kelly Hite transferred after one year and is now a sophomore at Stetson.

Among the players who completed their eligibility who do not have degrees, Williams said that seven play overseas and remain in good academic standing. That group includes Rodney Elliott and Sarunas Jasikevicius, last year's seniors, who are playing in Europe.

"If a guy plays pro in Europe and comes back and gets his degree after six years, what did he do wrong?" Williams said. "You go to college to make sure you're in a position to help yourself and your family economically. That's what those guys are doing."

Joe Smith left Maryland after his sophomore season, was the No. 1 pick in the 1995 draft and has earned millions. Williams said that NBA players Tony Massenburg, (who entered in 1985-86), Walt Williams (1988-89), and Keith Booth (1993-94), all have degrees from Maryland.

The Sun sought information from the registrar's office at the university, but the academic records of former basketball players could not be released without their authorization.

The early signing period for national letters of intent opens today. One Maryland recruit, Charlotte (N.C.) center George Leach, cited Indiana's higher graduation rate (87 percent for the classes that entered from 1988-91) among the reasons he chose the Hoosiers over the Terps, who nonetheless expect to sign three other high school seniors today.

Point guard Steve Blake of Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va.; shooting guard Drew Nicholas of Long Island (N.Y.) Lutheran; and forward Tahj Holden of Red Bank (N.J.) Regional have committed to the Terps. Blake and Holden appear on lists of the nation's top 50 recruits.

If Williams had his way, that class would be one of the last to enjoy freshman eligibility. The NCAA is studying a number of issues involving men's basketball. Making freshmen ineligible has been suggested, and Williams said he is in favor of that change.

NOTE: The Terps play their second and final exhibition tonight (at 8) at Cole Field House vs. the California All-Stars. Former UCLA stars Ed O'Bannon and Jelani McCoy are on a team that played its seventh game in nine days last night, at Syracuse. The all-stars lost at Rhode Island, Kentucky and Kansas, but won at Colorado.

Pub Date: 11/11/98

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