New kids on ACC block can play

Freshmen all over league making impact in hurry

Terps lack `rah-rah' types

ACC notebook

January 10, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

One night, it's Duke guard J.J. Redick creating a highlight reel and matchup problems with his ability to score. Or it's Georgia Tech center Chris Bosh ripping down rebound after rebound. Or swingman Rashad McCants leading North Carolina.

Pretty much on any given night for the next two months, you can count on one of them - or some other talented freshman somewhere in the Atlantic Coast Conference - putting a team on his back and grabbing some headlines.

The invasion of the first-year, impact player is happening nationwide, and it surely is flourishing in the ACC, where massive player turnover has created a void the newcomers are filling. Seventeen of the league's top 20 scorers are gone from a year ago.

This season, three of the league's top 10 scorers, three of its top 12 rebounders, two of its three most proficient shooters and three of its seven best assist men are freshmen.

"The talent pool perhaps was better than people expected," said Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser, whose undefeated, 17th-ranked Demon Deacons are benefiting from the services of 6-foot-9 freshman center Eric Williams. He is the team's second-leading scorer (12.5 ppg) and rebounder (6.6).

"I think most coaches would prefer to have talent and experience," Prosser added. "But if you had to pick one, you'd take the talent."

The precocious talent is everywhere in the ACC.

McCants (third in the league with 18.5 ppg), point guard Raymond Felton and post man Sean May start at North Carolina, although May is injured. Bosh and point guard Jarrett Jack bring a freshman flavor to Georgia Tech's starting lineup, and Bosh is second in the conference with 9.8 rebounds a game.

At Duke, freshman forwards Shavlik Randolph and Shelden Williams are complementing Redick, who leads the Blue Devils with 16.6 points per game and is making 91 percent of his free throws. Forwards Nik Caner-Medley and Travis Garrison have played their way into starting positions at Maryland, while Florida State and Virginia are getting notable contributions from guards Todd Galloway and Derrick Byars, respectively.

It should make for an exciting, unpredictable run in the ACC. Remember, freshmen have a way of dazzling one night and disappearing the next. Witness Carolina's ability to beat Kansas and Stanford, and its inability to beat unranked Iona.

"Young players hit a wall sometimes. They get tired quicker. They don't know how to get used to the pace of the ACC," Tar Heels coach Matt Doherty said. "There are going to be high highs and low lows. That's a part of college basketball, but especially with freshmen. It will be interesting to see how well they hold up."

Terps turn down volume

Maryland coach Gary Williams is relying on five newcomers, including four freshmen, to help the Terps contend for another league and national title. Unlike some teams looking heavily to their youth, though, Williams has an advantage with five seniors in his rotation, led by senior guards Drew Nicholas and Steve Blake and center Ryan Randle.

One thing missing from this team in Williams' eyes - and he doesn't see it necessarily as a hindrance - is a collective personality that lacks the fire of recent years. If you're looking for the demonstrative emotion or the constant chatter that was on display nightly from the likes of Juan Dixon or Byron Mouton or Chris Wilcox, you probably won't get much of it this year.

"Our personalities are pretty laid back. I don't know if that's a problem. This is just a different team. There's not a lot of vocal guys," Williams said. "We've got to figure out how to play with a great deal of intensity every night, without being a rah-rah type of team. I've won with teams like that before."

Williams questioned the desire of his seniors a month ago, after losses to Notre Dame and Florida. Over the past four weeks, which have included four straight victories, he thinks the spark is returning.

"Our seniors are in a unique position. There has never been a senior here who won a national championship as a junior," Williams said. "Last year, we were really hungry to win it. That's the ultimate thing you can do as a college basketball player. It's been tough on them at times emotionally to get into this year, no doubt about it."

Leader of the 'Pack

Although it's far too early to determine the ACC Player of the Year, watch out for N.C. State swingman Julius Hodge.

Hodge, a 6-6 sophomore from New York City, has pushed the Wolfpack to an 8-2 start and an ACC victory over Virginia to begin the conference schedule.

He has played both guard positions and at small forward, and leads N.C. State in minutes (33.2), scoring (19.2, second in ACC) and rebounding (6.7). He has made 79 percent of his 71 free throws (second in ACC), is shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from three-point range. He also is averaging 3.8 assists and 1.9 steals.

"Julius has continued to get better in every way, if you look back at his game this time last year," Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek said. "He's kind of like a utility infielder, because he can play anywhere. He really is a player without a position."

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