On 7th day, Terps have 2nd thoughts

September 05, 1999|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Tamir Goodman's play during an injury-marred summer might not be the only reason the Maryland men's basketball program is wavering on him.

The refusal of the Orthodox Jewish recruit to practice, play or travel during his Sabbath could be causing the Maryland staff equal, if not greater, concern.

Why else would Maryland sour on Goodman eight months after offering him a scholarship?

How else to explain the Terps' shift when Goodman is still considered a player of promise entering his senior year of high school?

"Yes, I do think he can play at the Division I level," said Bob Gibbons, a recruiting analyst based in Lenoir, N.C.

"The bigger problem is, how do you balance at a major-college program the very delicate issue of big-time basketball and strong religious beliefs?"

Harold Katz, Goodman's coach at Talmudical Academy last season, said in January that Maryland coach Gary Williams told him the school would attempt to schedule around the Sabbath and appeal to the Atlantic Coast Conference to do the same.

Goodman accepted Maryland's scholarship offer only after receiving such assurances. He has not wavered in his commitment to observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. But maybe Maryland is growing uncomfortable with the issues his stance would create.

If Williams overreacted in January by offering a scholarship to a player with so little experience, he seems to be overreacting again by cooling on Goodman now.

Consider the opinion of Southern High coach Meredith Smith, one of Goodman's coaches this summer at the National Basketball Players Association camp in Princeton, N.J.

"He's athletic. He's got some skills. He has good quickness. At the same time, he could use some work in the weight room -- he needs to be physically stronger," Smith said of Goodman, who is 6 feet 3, 159 pounds.

"Does he have time in one year to get it completely to the level he needs to be? The potential definitely is there."

So, why is Maryland worried?

Maybe its coaches thought Goodman would relent and play on the Sabbath after agreeing to join the program.

Maybe they were so eager to receive his commitment, they told him what he wanted to hear, figuring they could resolve any problems later.

Or, maybe they've decided that Goodman couldn't hold his own in the ACC, a conclusion that would indicate that they severely misjudged his talent.

NCAA rules prohibit college coaches from commenting on prospective athletes, but the Maryland staff reportedly was unimpressed with Goodman's performance at all-star camps this summer.

Goodman had an excuse -- he suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee in early July at the start of a three-week coaches' evaluation period, and the injury limited his lateral movement.

But maybe it's easier for the Maryland coaches to start picking apart Goodman's game than it is for them to confront the challenges that would result from his arrival.

To accommodate Goodman, Maryland would need to seek Sabbath exemptions from the ACC's television partners and the NCAA men's basketball tournament committee.

Williams also might need to adjust team rules concerning playing time -- players who miss practice, as Goodman occasionally would during the Sabbath, generally face reduced minutes.

All of that seemed worth the trouble eight months ago, but maybe Maryland no longer believes that Goodman is worthy of such consideration.

Is he good enough to play at a top Division I school?

"That's a hard question," Smith said. "I think he has a tremendous amount of potential. If he played against more solid competition, he could be."

Goodman spent the summer seeking out such competition, appearing in pickup games at Maryland, joining local unlimited leagues and attending some of the nation's top camps. His desire to improve also led him to transfer to Takoma Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist institution in Takoma Park. Takoma plays against better competition than Talmudical, but not in a premier prep league.

For now, local basketball expert Paul Baker is among those who believe that Goodman is performing under expectations that no high school player could meet.

Baker runs a basketball camp at the Jewish Community Center in Owings Mills, where Maryland assistant coach Billy Hahn first became aware of Goodman last summer.

"I made the statement originally that Tamir Goodman is the real thing and can play on a high major level," Baker said. "That does not mean Tamir Goodman will be a consensus All-American and first-round NBA draft choice. But that's what he's being unfairly judged on with all the publicity -- `60 Minutes,' Sports Illustrated, the `Jewish Jordan.'

"When scouts and coaches see him, they're expecting to have their eyes bulge out. Regardless of the difficult summer he has had, I have not changed my opinion of him. He's not a hoax at all."

Still, Baker admits that he has lowered his opinion of Goodman.

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