Ex-Terps QB McCall big gainer on court

Hard-driving senior goes from periphery to key role for Maryland

January 25, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

CLEMSON, S.C. - To understand what senior guard Calvin McCall brings to the men's basketball team at the University of Maryland, look no further than the Band-Aid beneath his left eye.

What started as a nasty cut incurred while battling for a rebound in a recent loss at Wake Forest had turned into quite a bruise a few days later.

McCall wore the bandage well.

"Cal is that one guy who is constantly making that tough play," Maryland senior guard Drew Nicholas said. "If we need a big rebound, he's in there fighting for it. He's one of those guys you would call an X-factor. He does so many things that don't necessarily show up in the stats. We know how important he is to our team."

Don't think McCall doesn't burn to be appreciated. Don't think that, during the preseason, when the talk about the defending national champion Terrapins centered on four upperclassmen and five newcomers, McCall did not wince at the way people dismissed him.

Never had McCall, the former quarterback for Maryland's football team, devoted himself fully to basketball preparation in the offseason. Never was he more ready to make a strong bid for serious playing time.

It has been quite a transformation for McCall in his final go-round in College Park. After earning a starting assignment over freshman Nik Caner-Medley in the season's first four games, McCall traded spots with the newcomer for the next nine games, two of which he missed with a sprained ankle. Then, after a 10-point, four-rebound effort at Wake Forest, McCall returned to the starting lineup.

This time, it could be a long while before he surrenders his spot.

"I think I did have something to prove this year," said McCall, who is averaging 5.4 points and 3.6 rebounds in 17 minutes a game. "We had these top 100 and top 50 recruits coming in, and it was kind of like I was overlooked. Maryland had four starters coming back, and one of the freshmen was going to be the fifth starter."

There is nothing flashy about McCall's game. Think of Byron Mouton from the previous two Maryland teams, minus Mouton's tendency to score more in streaks. At 6 feet 3, 190 pounds, McCall is quick and athletic enough to play small forward, strong enough to occasionally post up opponents as an emergency power forward, versatile enough to be a utility player on offense or defense.

At North Carolina on Wednesday, McCall scored seven points, grabbed six rebounds and earned more stripes by drawing Tar Heels sensation Rashad McCants as his defensive assignment.

During 27 exhausting minutes in Maryland's 81-66 win, McCall spent most of his night fighting through countless screens and chasing McCants, who took 24 shots, made 10 and led the Tar Heels with 26 points.

McCall clearly has grown on Maryland coach Gary Williams, who loves his energy and willingness to get dirty.

"Calvin gets that rebound, makes that steal, gives us a lift. He's played more than I thought he would play this year," Williams said. "He's earned his way in there. He has no fear. He knows his game and he knows our offense. He's more of a basketball player this year. He was just a great athlete before that."

Coming out of Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla., McCall had his sights trained mainly on football, although basketball lurked in the background. After signing with Maryland under former coach Ron Vanderlinden. McCall was the runner-up for ACC Rookie of the Year honors in 1999, then walked on to the basketball team.

He did the same after averaging 170.3 passing yards for the football team as a sophomore, when an ankle injury cut his year short after eight starts. After helping Maryland as a reserve during its first Final Four trip, McCall decided to walk away from football for good. Williams granted him a scholarship.

McCall appeared in 19 games a year ago, averaging 1.4 points and 4.2 minutes, as the Terps won their first national championship. He resolved to become a bigger part of Maryland's picture during his final year.

"There's not a lot of people who can say they've started in two different sports at a major level," said McCall, who said he never second-guessed himself, even while watching the resurgence of Maryland football under coach Ralph Friedgen, who has won a conference title, earned an Orange Bowl berth and won a Peach Bowl.

"I can't say that I've ever missed [football] since I left. I'm happy with my decision," he added. "When I look at my big [national title] ring, I'm real happy. That eases everything."

Terps today

Matchup:No. 12 Maryland (11-4) vs. Clemson (11-3)

Site:Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson, S.C.

Time:4 p.m.

TV/Radio:Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line:Maryland by 7

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