`Sleepy' Randle proves eye-opener

Terps: By making the most of his minutes, transfer Ryan Randle has become an inside force to be reckoned with in the ACC.

College Basketball

February 13, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - His Maryland basketball teammates took one look at those droopy eyes and nicknamed him "Sleepy," yet Ryan Randle's game is wide-awake.

Randle, the shy, soft-spoken junior backup center from Duncanville, Texas, who first made a collegiate name for himself at Allegany College, is no longer trying to tunnel his way into coach Gary Williams' playing rotation. Over the past month, Randle has proved he belongs.

At 6 feet 9, 245 pounds, Randle has added more bulk to a Terps front line that looks like one of the thicker, deeper units in the nation. He has been invaluable on nights when senior Lonny Baxter has run into foul trouble. He has grabbed rebounds with striking consistency, gone aggressively to the basket to score, blocked shots, shown soft hands in the paint and impressed Williams with the economy in his style.

"He's not fancy, and he's quick," Williams said of Randle. "Ryan understands that the best thing for a big man to do when he has the ball is to go hard to the basket, and he can rebound with anybody on our team. He gets around people even though he's 265 [pounds] or whatever. He's given us a guy we're not afraid to use as the eighth man.

"To have a guy like Ryan to be able to go in there and hold the fort is great. The eighth man could start if Lonny got hurt."

Look for Randle tonight, when Maryland (19-3) plays host to Georgia Tech and attempts to achieve its first-ever 10-1 record in Atlantic Coast Conference competition and become only the fourth team in school history to win 20 of its first 23 games. Based on most of his ACC exposure so far, Randle probably will not be riding the bench for long.

Randle is averaging an extremely productive 9.8 minutes a game. He has chipped in 4.4 points, 3.7 rebounds. Projected to a 30-minute average, Randle would be the team's leading rebounder and among its top three scorers.

And Randle has not inflated his numbers by feasting on cheap minutes against weak competition. In all but three ACC games, he has performed for at least 12 minutes.

When Baxter fell into foul trouble recently against North Carolina State, Randle came off the bench to score all seven of his points to help the Terps pull away from the Wolfpack in the second half. He produced seven points and six rebounds in 12 minutes during last month's loss at Duke.

Randle spelled the foul-hampered Baxter again in Maryland's 85-63 dismantling of Wake Forest by adding six points and four rebounds in 16 minutes. His three-minute showing in Maryland's 91-87 victory at Virginia two weeks ago was nowhere near invisible. Randle made his time count with four points and four rebounds. Williams even chided himself for not playing Randle more that night.

"I feel productive. When I come in, I just want to get us motivated and add a spark," said Randle, who speaks with a raspy twang and drops his head in a shy manner. "People expect us to win, and I expected the things I'm doing now."

The Terps knew they were getting a gifted player when they tapped the Cumberland, Md., pipeline that already had given them Steve Francis - and appears ready to deliver 6-8 forward Jamar Smith to College Park next season.

As a sophomore forward/center, Randle led Allegany to the 2001 junior-college national championship game, averaging 13.2 points and 7.8 rebounds to go with his team-high 61 blocks. Still, there were questions about his work ethic. Allegany coach Bob Kirk often did not start Randle, who reported to Maryland last summer looking a little heavy.

Some brutal workouts with strength and conditioning coach Kurtis Shultz took at least 15 pounds off Randle, who started showing some impressive low-post moves during the preseason and quickly adapted to playing with the likes of Baxter, Chris Wilcox and Tahj Holden. Maryland now has a physical foursome.

In Randle, the Terps also have a starting center to pencil in when the team opens the Comcast Center next season. For now, Randle should play a significant role in whether the Terps can win their first ACC title under Williams and duplicate last year's Final Four run.

"Nobody knew what Randle could do this year, including me," Williams said. "I told him next year, he can play all of the minutes he wants."

Said Randle: "The confidence level has gone up tremendously. Special things are going to happen to me and this team."

NOTES: Senior forward Byron Mouton, stuck in a shooting slump early this season, is averaging 13.6 points and is shooting 53.8 percent from the field and 78.6 percent at the foul line against the ACC. ... Backup guard Drew Nicholas is shooting 55.8 percent from the field, 52.2 percent from three-point range and 82.4 percent at the foul line against the league. ... Maryland plans to honor Francis by hanging his number from the Cole Field House rafters before Sunday's game against Duke.

Terps tonight

Opponent: Georgia Tech

Site: Cole Field House, College Park

Time: 7:30

TV/Radio: ESPN2/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 19 1/2

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