Long on money, short on fun, Wilcox wearing wistful look

March 06, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

WASHINGTON - Chris Wilcox's heart is at the University of Maryland, but his game and wallet are in Los Angeles.

It has been more than eight months since Wilcox, the former Terps forward, was selected as the No. 8 overall pick by the Clippers in the NBA draft. Wilcox, only a sophomore, was torn between staying at Maryland or going pro.

He is still caught up in the middle, and only time will make him feel more comfortable with his decision.

"I'm learning more. Every day I'm learning more," Wilcox, 20, said after a shoot-around yesterday morning at MCI Center as the Clippers prepared to meet the Washington Wizards.

And then, without provocation, Wilcox said: "I think I would have learned more if I had stayed another year at Maryland. A lot of guys leave after their fourth or fifth year. I left early, after my second. There was a lot of stuff in college that I needed to learn, but didn't."

Then suddenly, his mind shoots back to the NBA: "But I'm getting a lot of attention here, and also learning some things I wouldn't have learned in college."

You get the picture.

The kid's mind is still all over the place. You feel bad for him because he really needed more time in college to mature, not basketball-wise, but socially. You're happy for him because he is living out his dream.

And you hope it all works out because Wilcox might become one bitter young man if it doesn't.

"Sometimes, I do have second thoughts [about the decision to leave Maryland], with me not getting that much playing time here," Wilcox said, "but I'm just happy to be in the league, and hopefully everything will work out."

Hopefully.

So far, it hasn't, but that's to be expected. At Maryland, the 6-foot-10 Wilcox seemed as though he might jump through the roof at Cole Field House on some nights last season, averaging 12.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 24.1 minutes. He had great strength and could run for a big man. He could turn on the Terps and the home crowd with one of those vicious, hang-on-the-rim dunks.

But he was raw. The scouts saw potential. Wilcox saw dollar signs, eventually signing a three-year, $6.1 million contract.

You can't blame him. This wasn't about greed. It was about a poor kid who got tired of being poor, and had a quick fix.

"I'm not going to say it's all about money, but most of the time it is," Wilcox said. "Sometimes you have to do what's right, and when the time is right."

Maryland coach Gary Williams said: "It would be nice to have him. It would have been nice to have worked with him for another year, but he had such a great top side. You can't fault Chris Wilcox for what he did. The system is there. I don't think any of us would turn down $2 million."

Well, maybe if Wilcox knew he was going to be drafted by the Clippers and play behind Elton Brand. The team is the black hole of the NBA. Before last night's game, Wilcox had played in only 26 of 59 games, averaging 7.9 minutes and 2.6 points. He was 31-for-60 from the field, but only 6-for-16 from the foul line.

He went from a national championship team to one that is 27 games back in the Western Conference. During the past decade, the Clippers haven't had a winning season and have had seven head coaches, with another change made this week when Dennis Johnson replaced Alvin Gentry.

"I've never been in a situation like this," said Wilcox, who missed most of the preseason with a quadriceps injury and then was hampered by a leg injury. "It's definitely a learning experience. We've lost a lot of games, and I haven't been getting a lot of playing time. It's kind of tough for me to go out there and play because I'm just trying not to mess up so I can stay out there. I'm taking it in stride and just trying to be happy because I'm here.

"But the coaching change is not a big deal for me," he added. "D.J. [Johnson] has been on the bench the whole year, anyway. He is always the person that has come to me and let me know what's going on. He is the kind of coach a young person like me needs. He is always saying, `Let's hang around a little longer, take some more shots, work on this, work on that.' "

Despite the NBA schedule, Wilcox has watched the Terps a lot this season. He likes what he sees, but says there are a couple of things missing. One is leadership, and the other is his big body in the middle.

"They are a great team. They've just got to pull some things together, and they need one leader on the team to step us and say, `Let's go,' " Wilcox said. Asked whether the Terps' missing body inside was his, Wilcox smiled and said: "Maybe. Maybe they miss me a little, little bit."

It's a lot. Terps point guard Steve Blake is going to deliver a pretty good game nearly every night, and even though No. 2 guard Drew Nicholas is inconsistent, he always gives maximum effort. But the Terps don't have an every-night threat inside. Tahj Holden wants to play outside, and sometimes Ryan Randle plays like his nickname, "Sleepy."

"If we still had No. 54, it would be a little scary," Nicholas said.

Instead, Wilcox is the property of the Clippers. Wizards coach Doug Collins said Wilcox has been playing more inspired ball lately. Maybe it's a sign of things to come. Maybe it's because Johnson is the new coach.

"I'm not mad about the decision I made," Wilcox said. "I'm going to go work hard this summer on my game, come back, and hopefully get more playing time. Eventually, this will all work out. It just takes time, something I didn't have at Maryland."

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