In Terps' journey, all roads start and end with Morris

November 26, 1999|By John Eisenberg

NEW YORK -- Having four new starters this season, all freshmen and sophomores, might leave the Maryland Terrapins lacking for certain qualities that have marked them in recent years.

But the Terps also are going to have the best player on the court in just about every game, an advantage that will make up for some of what's missing.

If they didn't have Terence Morris, their junior preseason All-America from Frederick, the Terps would be in a serious rebuilding mode this season.

But with Morris, they're still a dangerous team. The Kentucky Wildcats found that out Wednesday night in the Preseason NIT semifinals, blowing all of a 16-point lead before beating the Terps, 61-58, with Morris scoring 25 points to lead the rally.

"He could have gone for 30," Maryland coach Gary Williams said after a holiday practice session yesterday in Manhattan.

As it was, he enhanced his national profile, established himself as a serious candidate for national Player of the Year and caused a row of NBA scouts to sit up and start scribbling.

And to think he hasn't even found his high gear yet.

"He's still adjusting from being the youngest player in the [starting] lineup last season to being the oldest player in the lineup this season," Williams said.

And when that adjustment is behind him?

"There's no doubt what he's capable of doing," Williams said.

He's capable of a whole lot. That was obvious from his first collegiate dribble, when his combination of size, quickness, shooting range and ball-handling skills marked him as a future star, a player who could end up resembling, say, Scottie Pippen.

His talent bloomed in relative obscurity over the past two seasons, as the Terps relied on upperclassmen to carry them to consecutive Sweet 16 appearances. He chipped in with some huge games, but there was no pressure on him.

"He could just go along and lurk in the background," Williams said.

Not anymore. The Terps have limited experience, a slender backcourt and a slew of new faces. Morris has to deliver.

That's no secret, of course, which was why Kentucky hurled a rotation of tall bodies at him Wednesday night, attempting to shut him down. The first half of that game was probably the first time in Morris' Maryland career that he was pounded physically and had to respond himself, instead of letting an older teammate respond for him.

The results were impressive, to say the least. He scored on a variety of inside moves, including a nifty jump hook that dropped three times and a three-pointer that showed off his range. He also added eight rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block.

By the end of the game, Kentucky senior center Jamaal Magloire had been revealed as a pretender and the rest of the Wildcats' inside defense had seen enough.

"We had to go to him in the second half to come back," Williams. "No one had to say anything about it. It was just understood. And he was the Terence we know."

Not that having the best player on the court in most games assures the Terps of a successful season. They probably would have beaten Kentucky with a more balanced attack.

"No matter how good Terence is, we need the team around him," Williams said.

They'll certainly need it tonight, with Morris matched up against Notre Dame's Troy Murphy in the Preseason NIT third-place game at Madison Square Garden. Murphy is a year younger and an inch taller than Morris, and he has a somewhat similar combination of skills.

He can dominate inside and also step outside and shoot. He had 22 points and 10 rebounds against Arizona on Wednesday night. (He did take eight more shots than Morris did against Kentucky.)

With the best players on each team matched against each other, the rest of the players probably will make the difference.

Williams hinted that he might switch Morris from power forward to small forward at times and put freshman power forward Tahj Holden on the floor, giving the Terps more bulk up front. Sophomore small forward Danny Miller is struggling to recreate the aggressiveness he showed last season, and Williams needs more production from that spot.

"There are a couple of looks we can give in that way," Williams said.

Morris' versatility makes it all possible.

You could see this coming two years ago, when Morris made the starting lineup as a shy freshman with obvious potential. He had more of an impact in Steve Francis' shadow last year, and now, suddenly, he's the one casting the shadows.

Famously shy, he's warming to the spotlight more easily than some in the program thought he would. He's getting used to giving interviews and being a team spokesman, and now he has what every star has to have -- his own Web site.

"He's getting more confident," Williams said. "He's also stronger than he was last season."

Still developing. But already one of the college game's best players.

Where would the Terps be without him?

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