Small forwards coming up big for Terps this season

Williams was worried, but McCall, Caner-Medley fill void left by Mouton

College Basketball

March 13, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - After the Maryland Terrapins won their first NCAA men's basketball championship last spring, coach Gary Williams knew he was about to lose four starters, and the position change that made him squirm the most might surprise you.

With star shooting guard Juan Dixon, star center Lonny Baxter and power forward Chris Wilcox embarking on NBA careers, at least Williams had experienced juniors in Drew Nicholas, Ryan Randle and Tahj Holden ready to step in as starters. The same could not be said at small forward, where Byron Mouton had departed and left a void.

As No. 2 seed Maryland prepares for the 50th annual Atlantic Coast Conference tournament after its second-place finish in the regular-season league standings, Williams feels at ease with the small forward slot, where senior Calvin McCall and freshman Nik Caner-Medley have fashioned a tag team that has won over their coach.

"When I looked at that position over the summer, I didn't know how it was going to be. That was the big unknown on our team. We were searching," Williams said.

"Cal was one of the guys I wasn't sure about, since he hadn't played that much, and Nik had never played at this level. But I think the combination of Nik and Cal has helped us solidify what would have been a weakness before the season started."

McCall is the 6-foot-3 ex-Maryland quarterback and basketball walk-on who focused exclusively on hoops preparation for the first time last summer. Caner-Medley, 6-8, is the former Maine high school superstar who used to score 40 points with regularity.

Together, they have grown confident in their games and comfortable with the ways they complement each other. Together, they have combined to average 11.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 2.1 assists in 34.5 average minutes of playing time.

"Between me and Cal, we both understand the most important thing is to win," Caner-Medley said. "He's done a great job of helping me out in practice and during games. He's been a great leader for me. The only unsettled part of this is who's hot that night? But as long as at least one of us is playing well, nothing is unsettled."

McCall forced his hand during the preseason with hustle and awareness in practice that made Williams take note. Williams liked McCall's hunger and three years of experience in the program enough to name him the starter.

That lasted four games, after which Caner-Medley moved in among the starting five. But after nine games marked by a tendency to disappear after flashes of fine play, the freshman went back to the bench. Eight games later, their roles changed once again, with Caner-Medley becoming the first steady freshman starter at Maryland since senior point guard Steve Blake's opening year.

Now, Caner-Medley starts, and unless McCall is in foul trouble, the senior usually is on the floor in the waning minutes, especially in a close game.

"I just told myself I was going to give [Williams] no choice but to play me," said McCall, who dropped football, earned a basketball scholarship two years ago and was basically a footnote on last year's team by averaging a mere 1.4 points and 4.2 minutes.

"I was smart enough to realize I'd get on the court by going after loose balls and rebounding and playing good defense. I think I've played well enough to be used as an option."

McCall, an excellent leaper with a muscular frame that reminds one of his football background, has drawn comparisons to Mouton from an admiring Williams after numerous games.

His best nights have come when he is keeping rebounds alive on the offensive glass and forcing turnovers in Maryland's pressing defense. His shooting has been a bonus at times. McCall is averaging 5.2 points and 3.6 rebounds on 47.1 percent shooting in his 18.1 minutes of playing time.

His best stretch came in back-to-back victories last month at Florida State and at home against Wake Forest. McCall grabbed seven rebounds and scored six points to help lift the sluggish Terps past the Seminoles, 74-72. Five days later, McCall was a one-man wrecking crew off the bench in a 90-67 rout of the Demon Deacons with nine points, seven rebounds and three steals.

"I don't think there's a better sixth man in the league than Cal," Williams said.

Caner-Medley, who has averaged 5.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 16.4 minutes of playing time, can create matchup problems with his size. The Terps like to use Caner-Medley at the top of their zone defense, and he has shown the ability to slash to the basket and make three-pointers with equal success. He is shooting 53.9 percent overall.

His career-high 14-point effort in a losing cause at Georgia Tech on Feb. 9 stood out this season. So did the defensive gem he produced while guarding North Carolina State star Julius Hodge in a 75-60 victory on Jan. 30, in which Caner-Medley also had nine points, three rebounds and a career-high five steals.

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