Terps' feeding habits a healthy sign Newcomers mesh well in pass-happy group

November 20, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- See the ball -- or run the risk of not seeing it again.

The big men on the Maryland basketball team work the offensive end with their eyes open and their hands up. The No. 6 Terps, who play another nonconference game tonight at 8 against Hofstra at Cole Field House, are excited a little by their individual talent and a lot by the way they have distributed the ball.

"We've got some guys who are pretty unselfish, some great passers," backup center Mike Mardesich said. "You have to be aware of what they're doing with the ball.

"I don't know if it was the first or second exhibition, but Steve [Francis] came down, passed the ball around a defender, and I missed it. Those are the things I have to catch, or I'm not going to get the ball again. If you want the guys to pass it to you, you better catch it."

Coach Gary Williams knew early that he had his deepest Maryland team but wondered how four newcomers would mix in. The Terps did not have a 20-point scorer in their first two games, and if they go all season without one, that wouldn't bother Williams, who has gotten the help of his seniors in selling an egalitarian approach.

"The attitude is the most important thing," Williams said. "You have to have the mind-set that you're going to sacrifice some shots to get to the open man. That has to be the attitude of the team. You get a couple of guys who are selfish, and it just kills a team."

Williams lost guards Sarunas Jasikevicius and Matt Kovarik from a Sweet 16 team, but junior-college transfer Francis and freshman Juan Dixon (Calvert Hall) have shifted Maryland from fourth to fifth gear.

Francis had 17 assists in wins over Western Carolina and UMBC, and said, "I feel like I've been here three years." He still hasn't had enough time, however, to show fully his knack for drawing a defense and dishing off.

Terrell Stokes broke his own school record for assists with 15 against Western Carolina, but the feeds have also come from unexpected sources. Senior wing Laron Profit has dunked backdoor alley-oop passes not just from Francis and Stokes, but also Lonny Baxter, a 6-foot-8, 250-pound freshman.

"It worked so well because nobody expected me to do it," Baxter said of the assist he threw late in the first half against Western Carolina.

Among the big men, Baxter might have the best hands, but Williams doesn't consider him the best passer. Terence Morris has flashed from the corner to the foul line more in two exhibitions and two games than he did all last season, and the 6-9 sophomore from Frederick looks comfortable dumping the ball down low.

Obinna Ekezie, like Profit and Stokes a senior, is converting his chances to the tune of 68.4 percent (13-for-19 shooting). If he doesn't fall into old habits and put the ball on the floor against double teams, the Terps will be awfully difficult to trap.

"The good teams are passing teams," Williams said of a skill that isn't stressed on the playground. "When I was growing up, you played two-on-two or three-on-three if you didn't have 10 guys. Now, you play one-on-one if you don't have 10 guys. If you and I play and you score, the next guy comes in for me.

"That's great for your one-on-one skills, but there's no passing involved. One day a week in the preseason, we set up teams of three or four guys and play half court, which they really hate, because you pass a lot. Hopefully, you learn how to pass."

Of Maryland's 75 baskets so far, 54 have been assisted. Of the ones that haven't, at least half have been solo steals and dunks.

Hofstra should give Maryland (2-0) its stiffest challenge thus far. Coach Jay Wright's team is among the favorites in the America East Conference, where junior guard Craig "Speedy" Claxton was the Player of the Year last season.

Hofstra, which has yet to play, returns all five starters from a team that went 19-12 last season, but it could have trouble with Maryland's size.

NOTES: The Hofstra and Duquesne (Monday) games are sold out, as is the Terps' Dec. 19 meeting with Princeton at the Baltimore Arena. Baxter shattered a backboard at the end of practice Wednesday and ended up with a small cut on his right shoulder. Claxton was the second sophomore in America East )) history to be named Player of the Year, the other being the late Reggie Lewis, of Dunbar High and Northeastern University, in 1985.

Pub Date: 11/20/98

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