Can Morris be self-centered UM forward?

January 19, 2000|By John Eisenberg

What Terence Morris needs, quite simply, is a transplant. A basketball doctor should clone Juan Dixon's fire-breathing approach to the game and insert a copy in Morris, the Maryland Terrapins' reluctant leader and star.

A player combining Morris' size and skills with Dixon's intensity, guts and occasional "me-first" attitude would be quite a sight.

But just as Maryland coach Gary Williams can't make the 6-foot-3, 152-pound Dixon any taller or much more physical, he can't make the unassuming Morris more fiery or selfish.

"You can't make him what he's not," Williams said yesterday.

How to admit that and still get all they need from Morris is the issue as the Terps set out to try to overcome an 0-3 start in ACC play starting with tonight's game against Wake Forest at Cole Field House.

Morris, a junior regarded as one of the nation's top forwards, scored one basket in the second half against Georgia Tech last weekend, and failed to score in the last 10 minutes at North Carolina State 13 days ago. It wasn't a coincidence the Terps lost both games, even though each still came down to the last possession. Other factors contributed, but when you have the best player on the floor and he doesn't dominate, you're hurting your chances.

What's happening isn't hard to figure out. In his first two seasons, playing with such high-profile teammates as Steve Francis, Obinna Ekezie and Laron Profit, Morris was seldom the focus of the opposition's defense.

Now, as the Terps' oldest starter and best-known player, averaging 16.7 points and shooting 52.4 percent from the field, he is always the focus.

"With the players we lost to the NBA from last year's team, it's easy for other teams to point and say, `We've got to stop Terence before we stop anyone else,' " Williams said.

"That's been tough on Terence, an adjustment he's had to make. I think he's done a pretty good job."

But now the ACC season is here, defensive pressure is increasing and something has to change.

Morris shot 40 percent from the field, well below his season average, in the Terps' first three ACC games. He didn't take many shots in the second half against Tech and State.

The problem is that the defensive intensity activates Morris' innate unselfishness, which ordinarily would be welcomed. Quiet, comfortable in the shadows and always looking to pass before shooting -- an appealing habit honed since childhood -- he just gives the ball up.

This time, though, the Terps need him to get angry at the defense, forget about passing and just will his way to the basket, as Dixon does.

Make something happen. Use that talent the scouts love so much. Be the man.

"Terence isn't going to be a vocal leader or anything like that," Williams said, "but he will lead by example, as he has done for us in some games. Basically, we just want him to get off to a good start, play well early and we'll feed off that."

Dixon picked up the slack at Georgia Tech, scoring 31 points. The sophomore from Calvert Hall has a huge heart and unshakable confidence, even if he occasionally forgets to pass.

The Terps need just a touch of that attitude to rub off on Morris. Not a lot. Just a little.

"Everyone on the team has to adjust [after losing three straight ACC games]," Williams said.

"Terence has to adjust to the added attention from the defense. But our other players have to play well so teams can't just worry about Terence."

That's a problem, too. Dixon and center Lonny Baxter are the only other Terps carrying double-figure scoring averages, which means opponents can really concentrate on shutting down Morris, especially late.

With Wake coming in tonight, featuring a deep rotation of frontcourt bruisers certain to continue the trend of playing hard defense on Morris, it's time for freshman point guard Steve Blake to start creating a few shots for himself, time for small forward Danny Miller to raise his offensive game, time for Baxter to come out of his shooting slump (37.8 percent in ACC games) and get back to carrying the sizable load he was carrying earlier in the season.

"Even though we were only a play or two away from winning those games [at Tech and State], we didn't play well enough to win either one," Williams said. "We need to get better. And we can get better."

Williams said he doesn't believe that the key change that needs to occur is Morris' getting the ball more.

Morris is second on the team with 11.6 shots per game, behind Dixon's average of 14.

"Terence gets the ball. We run a lot of stuff for him," Williams said.

"We did it for Joe Smith, Steve Francis, everyone. He gets the ball in places where he can shoot. I don't see that as a problem."

The problem, then, is what happens after Morris gets the ball. He needs to give it back a little less, borrow a page from Dixon's take-it-personally approach and become a game-wrecker.

Is there a transplant surgeon in the house?

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