With grit, Brick turns UM corner

Basketball: Tenacity has served the former McDonogh star well. She has responded to freshman pressure with quick moves on and off the court.

February 24, 2000|By Rupen Fofaria | Rupen Fofaria,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

COLLEGE PARK -- Things have always come effortlessly to Vicki Brick -- at least, she has made it seem that way. She was a star athlete at McDonogh, both on the tennis and basketball courts, and she was no slouch in the classroom, either.

But no one can go through her entire life like that, can she? Different forms of stress and change -- shouldn't these rattle even the most poised young person?

Apparently not Vicki Brick.

Brick has tackled one of basketball's biggest transitions -- from scorer to playmaker -- and one of life's bigger transitions -- from the securities of home to the uncertainties of college -- with the same tenacity she has always shown.

"There is sort of a lonely atmosphere here," she said. "But one of the reasons I chose to go to Maryland was because it wouldn't be that big of an adjustment. I'm still close to home, and I've still got basketball in my life."

That she does. Brick and the Terrapins face Virginia tonight at Cole Field House in what could be a pivotal game for Maryland's confidence as it approaches the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

The Terps are 13-12 (4-10 ACC) and rest every hope of an NCAA tournament bid on the conference tournament. Virginia has surged to the top spot in the ACC, while Maryland has struggled, dropping four straight after upsetting Duke at home Feb. 3.

Starting for the Terps tomorrow will be freshman point guard Brick, who is second in the ACC in assists with 4.7 a game and is on pace to become the first freshman to lead the conference in steals in 20 years.

When she arrived at Maryland, there was no guarantee she would start. In fact, sitting on the bench for the team's first six games of the season was only one of many adjustments that Brick has made in College Park.

Maryland lacked sure hands at the point last season, when it finished 6-21, so Brick knew there was a place for her in the starting lineup -- but Maryland coach Chris Weller was intent on making her work for the job.

Brick was up to the challenge in practice. She hustled for every loose ball, kept up the pace even when she was exhausted -- in essence, dared Maryland to keep her out of the starting lineup. She has since started every game.

"That's the kind of person she is," Weller said. "She has great intensity. She's a person who strives for excellence."

It wasn't easy to break into the starting lineup, though, because there were other adjustments involved. In high school, she was the one who asked for the keys to the gym on her day off. But, in college, there aren't many days off.

Even before the season started, Brick had instituted a tiring daily regimen. She awoke an hour past dawn, underwent treatment for tendinitis, ate breakfast and hustled to a 10 a.m. class.

Two hours later, she went straight to Cole for practice, grabbed a meal from the dining hall and went back to the dorms to do school work. Three days a week, she would squeeze in time for weightlifting, and she tried hard to get in some extra shooting practice, too.

Then, once the season began, the real pressure started.

"It didn't feel that bad at first. I mean, I did fine," said Brick, who earned a 3.5 grade-point average her first semester. "As winter comes, you eat, sleep and breathe basketball. I have no problem with that, because I love it so much. But, I'll tell you, that's the biggest thing about being in college. You really learn to appreciate free time. You really understand how precious it is."

Still, even when there seemed to be no room in her schedule for anything else, Weller said she still found time for extra practice. It has paid off. She has a 1.38-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and has 81 steals (3.4 a game), seventh all-time in the Maryland record books. However, she isn't ready to stop there.

"I sometimes look up at Cole and see all the jerseys, and I can see mine up there," she said. "What the mind can see, it can achieve -- and I believe it. I want to be known as a person who worked hard to bring Maryland to the top."

Which brings up another adjustment. Brick led her high school teams to an 88-8 record, winning four Association of Independent Schools titles, while she averaged 20 points. She was a two-time All-Metro Player of Year.

Enter Maryland, a program that was 50-58 (24-38) during Brick's high school days, and here she was with a passion to change things.

But now she's not the scorer.

"Here, I do have a little bit of a different role," she said. "In high school, I was a scorer; here, I have more of a role where I set things up for my shooters. I'm not a shooter. Coach just wants me to go out there and bring my intensity and defense.

"Sometimes, it creates a little bit of hesitation, where I'm like, `Gosh, I can drive here, but, wait, maybe I shouldn't.' Sometimes that's good, because I get the ball to Tiffany [Brown] or March [Strickland] and they score. Sometimes it's bad, because we don't get the two points and I think I'd have gotten them."

But it's all part of adjusting.

"I have four years at this place," Brick said. "So far, so good. I know I'll take my bumps and bruises.

"That's life. I'm a freshman. But I'm going to continue to work hard and do my best. That's all I know for sure."

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