Cummings comes out of hiding along with Pitt Senior, unranked team are talk of Puerto Rico

Maryland notebook

November 28, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

BAYAMON, Puerto Rico -- Is Vonteego Cummings the nation's most unappreciated college basketball player? Pittsburgh coach Ralph Willard thinks so.

"This kid is one of the five best guards in America," Willard said after yesterday's 68-56 win over No. 4 Kentucky. "He's one of the best one [point] or two [shooting] guards in America. At the end of the season, the NBA will prove that with its draft. He can play two positions at the next level. He can play three for us. He just hasn't gotten his due because of what has happened to us."

Unranked Pittsburgh will play No. 5 Maryland in the championship game of the Puerto Rico Shootout tonight, and the Panthers are a surprise finalist because of all that has gone wrong for them the last few years. They've had a slew of injuries, the biggest reason they were 11-16 last season.

Cummings, a 6-foot-5 senior slasher from Thomson, Ga., was voted the preseason Rookie of the Year in the Big East Conference as a freshman, but a fractured left hand hindered his progress. While teammates tumbled around him last season, he set a Big East record by averaging a Homeric 40.1 minutes per game, thanks to overtime.

"He's used to playing a lot of minutes," Willard said. "He can break a defense down, and pull you out of your sets."

He averaged 19.5 points last season, when he was the only player to rank among the top three in the Big East in scoring, steals and assists. He had 24 points in a first-round win here over Xavier and its highly regarded backcourt of Lenny Brown and Gary Lumpkin, and his 20 and seven assists keyed yesterday's upset of Kentucky.

"I don't feel any pressure," Cummings said. "You give me the ball, I can score. I can deal with that."

Wing forward Laron Profit, Maryland's best defensive player, may draw the responsibility of marking Cummings, since Pittsburgh often goes with a three-guard lineup.

The Panthers also are getting solid play from Isaac Hawkins, a junior forward from Baton Rouge, La., who led the Big East in rebounding last season.

"Maryland has such a complete game," Willard said. "They've got a great inside game, great three-point shooting, and Terrell Stokes delivers the ball. There's no question they are a Top 10 team."

Briefly

Profit and Cummings met two seasons ago, when Maryland beat Pittsburgh in the first round of the Rainbow Classic. The Terps haven't won a tournament off the mainland since 1989, when Williams' first team took the Chaminade Christmas Classic in Hawaii. Maryland's record against UCLA is now 2-4. Lonny Baxter did not play in the first half, but the Terps freshman forward had a solid five-minute stint in the second, during a stretch when Williams used neither of his centers, Obinna Ekezie and Mike Mardesich. The Terps' free-throw shooting must get better. They missed five of their last seven attempts in the first half, which allowed UCLA to stay relatively close (eight points down) at the break. The Terps finished shooting 17-for-28 (61 percent) from the line, with Ekezie and Steve Francis both going 6-for-10.

Pub Date: 11/28/98

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