Despite stumbles, race not lost for Terps

Commentary

February 11, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

A DAY FOR rumbling and rambling:

It's not the time for panic if you're a University of Maryland basketball fan. Not yet anyway.

The Terps may have lost two straight Atlantic Coast Conference games to sorry Virginia and Georgia Tech, but the conference race is still wide-open. Coming games will determine if the Terps have what is needed to go deep into the NCAA tournament. Maryland has Florida State tomorrow night on the road in one of those late-night games that all college coaches hate.

Then the Terps have No. 15 Wake Forest on Sunday at home and travel to No. 8 Duke on Feb. 19. It's obvious Maryland is struggling offensively, but that will work itself out.

Won't it?

What has been surprising is Maryland's lack of defense. Georgia Tech, which shot 55.6 percent from the field, was a step quicker than Maryland, and its players dribbled the length of the court for baskets several times. The Yellow Jackets weren't afraid of driving the lane or going inside.

The Terps were late making switches and had no intimidator on the inside.

If the Terps are to improve, center Ryan Randle has to play with the same intensity for the entire game, not just when he has a strong start. Forget those little baby hooks and fadeaway shots and go to the rack with some authority as he did a year ago.

Forward Tahj Holden needs to become meaner. That dunk by the Yellow Jackets' Isma'il Muhammad that left part of him hanging on the rim and the other half hanging on Holden should have fired him up, but Holden didn't respond to the SportsCenter highlight.

The Terps look like a team that has tired legs and might need some more conditioning. Of course, getting some scoring from guards Drew Nicholas and Steve Blake in the first half against Georgia Tech would have helped.

Terps coach Gary Williams is already getting a little defensive. "We're human. People are spoiled," he said after the game, obviously alluding to the criticism that would follow.

But that's just insecurity. No one expected the Terps to duplicate the success of the past two years. For the most part, they have exceeded expectations.

As far as being spoiled, maybe UCLA fans were when John Wooden was the coach. But neither Williams nor the Terps have come close to reaching those levels.

OK, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever, and he has deserved all the superlatives and honors thrown his way throughout his illustrious career.

But when is enough enough?

It was ridiculous watching all those Jordan highlights and commercials throughout the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday night, and then it reached the pathetic stage when singer Mariah Carey performed at halftime wearing a Chicago Bulls jersey.

It was time to turn on Law & Order.

"Now, I can go home and feel at peace with the game of basketball," said Jordan at halftime.

Wait a minute. Here is a guy who was on the 1992 U.S. Olympic Dream Team and has won more NBA titles than several of the league's franchises combined, and he needed the ego stroked one more time.

Please.

Get over it, Mike.

Toronto's Vince Carter should have never given up his starting position, because that's what fans wanted. Instead, he buckled to peer pressure. It was also amusing watching Lakers Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant play. They gave proper respect to Jordan, but when it came time to play, the Lakers weren't going to take a back seat to Jordan or let up on him.

Jordan may be the best of all time, but the Lakers are still "Showtime" and the defending NBA champions.

No argument here about the Detroit Lions' hiring Steve Mariucci as their head coach. Considering the salary cap problems and the roster turnover he faced in San Francisco, he did an admirable job even with general manager Terry Donahue and consultant Bill Walsh undermining him during his six years with the 49ers.

But everyone throughout the league knew Lions president Matt Millen was going to hire Mariucci and virtually ignore the league's policy of interviewing minority candidates. That's why several minority candidates, including former Vikings coach Dennis Green, failed to apply.

Millen is overmatched as president. Despite being a former player, he has problems evaluating talent and made a major mistake by hiring Marty Mornhinweg as Lions coach two years ago. Millen was so quick to hire Mornhinweg that he didn't even bother to interview then-Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. He later apologized to Lewis as the Ravens prepared to meet the New York Giants during the week of Super Bowl XXXV.

Good luck, Steve.

You're on an island by yourself again.

The Ravens have had initial contract discussions with quarterback Jeff Blake, offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo, wide receiver Brandon Stokley and cornerback Chris McAlister, but don't expect any of them to sign before free agency begins on March 1.

They will all want to test their worth on the free-agent market.

The only one who could make big money is Mulitalo, a good run blocker but still too stiff to be a good pass blocker. Even if Mulitalo leaves, the Ravens are in decent shape, because they can move Mike Flynn from center to left guard and insert Casey Rabach at center. Rabach is a much better center than guard, the position he played last season. The Ravens have also been impressed with Mike Collins, who could become the No. 1 backup at guard next season.

McAlister would command a big contract, but the Ravens will designate him the franchise player. As for Blake and Stokley, they fit into general manager Ozzie Newsome's mantra: "Right player, right price."

In other words, they should come back cheap.

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