Once again, Wilcox has hot-topic status

Talk of NBA revives, but, `I think I'll be back'

NCAA Tournament

March 18, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- For the first time in the postseason, Maryland's Chris Wilcox justified all the hushed speculation about his future. Then, at least for the moment, the sophomore forward put the kibosh -- "though things could change" -- on all the NBA talk after the Terrapins' 87-57 victory over Wisconsin in a second-round NCAA tournament game.

"I've made that decision," Wilcox said, pledging to return to College Park for another season. "I think I'm doing a great job, but it's Juan and Lonny's team. Next season, I think I'll be back and have a greater impact."

Wilcox had just slammed through several booming dunks en route to 18 points and looked like the impact player he hadn't been during the middle of last month -- the end of a climb in which he had gone from unpolished reserve player to someone in line for a lottery-pick payday in the NBA draft.

The Raleigh, N.C., native, who is 6 feet 10 and weighs 220 pounds, didn't play that much last season, though he came to the Terps with good height, long arms, large hands and extraordinary jumping ability.

Those are attributes that draw notice regardless, but since Wilcox has displayed the ability to defend small forwards (ask Mike Dunleavy) and found ways (aside from dunks) to score close to the basket, there was sure to be a place for him in the NBA this fall.

But all the attention seemed to jinx Wilcox during the ACC tournament. He went 1-for-7 against last-place Florida State. In the next game, against N.C. State, he was effective at neither end of the floor during an upset loss.

Even on Friday, against Siena, he was in line with his lethargic teammates, grabbing only four rebounds in 25 minutes. And suddenly, the prospect was looking like a project. Until last night.

"Tonight, I came to play," Wilcox said. "If I have to play like that the rest of the year, that's what I'm ready to do."

After shooting 10-for-31 over the previous three games, Wilcox responded by hitting nine of his 13 shots against the Badgers, something more in line with the expectations for a power forward.

There wasn't anything terribly fancy about his performance. He showed his soft touch on jump hooks, then hammered down on Wisconsin's Mike Wilkinson and Dave Mader for some explosive dunks to get the crowd at MCI Center revved up.

"I think I give a lot of excitement when I'm on the floor -- I just want to come out and play hard," said Wilcox, who wanted badly to play well after his poor efforts leading up to this game. "I'm ready to play every night, but tonight I was hard to stop because I was in such a rhythm."

Wilcox acknowledged that the NBA talk has been a slight distraction and he had hedged about things possibly changing -- he's been projected among the top dozen prospects in most mock drafts for 2002.

Maryland coach Gary Williams would like to see Wilcox stay, for more than the obvious reasons.

"It would be really good for him to come back," Williams said. "He's learning how to play basketball. He can make plays as good as anybody at any level, but he's got to get more consistent. The more you play basketball, the more consistent you can get through experience."

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