6-language Sato spells UM trouble

Ncaa Tournament

March 23, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The full name is Romain Guessagba-Sato-Lebel. He is a native of the Central African Republic's capital city of Bangui, and speaks six languages. He loves soccer and volleyball and spends a lot of free time reading the Bible.

But his specialty is basketball, and his forte is trouble, as in causing plenty of it. Today, Sato could be the difference in Maryland's game against Xavier (26-5) in the second round of the South Regional of the NCAA tournament at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.

The Terps' main focus will be to stop Xavier's inside pair of 6-foot-9 forward David West and 6-9 forward/center Anthony Myles with the tandem of Tahj Holden and Ryan Randle.

Good luck.

But perhaps the game's most intriguing matchup is Maryland forward Nik Caner-Medley against Sato, Xavier's versatile guard/forward. With Sato, you know what to expect. He has a good all-around game. A deadly outside jumper. An assortment of inside moves.

How about defense?

He can shut down almost anything except the U.S. government. If you want someone to police the point guard, call Sato. If you need a hand in the face of a shooting guard, Sato is the man. Cover a small or power forward? No problem. Send out Sato.

But Maryland might have no answer for Sato.

All season, Maryland fans have asked, where is center Lonny Baxter or guard Juan Dixon when you need him? For the first time this season, there is a cry for Byron Mouton, the Terps' defensive stopper of a year ago.

Now Caner-Medley has to step up. He'll start out against Sato, who also will match up against backup Calvin McCall and shooting guard Drew Nicholas during stretches in the game.

"Well, it was never dull with Byron for one thing," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "He would always do something in practice every day that was crazy, and this time of year that's a good thing because we've been practicing such a long time. He was also the tough guy on defense. He could play bigger or smaller. He was strong enough to play a guy like Sato.

"Nik is a freshman, but also big enough," Williams said of the 6-8, 220-pound Caner-Medley. "He has to play his game. The big thing about Sato is not only is he a good shooter, but his rebounding and post-up ability are things that make him very good on the inside. Nick and Cal [McCall] have to be as physical as Sato."

A lot of teams overlook Sato because of West, who averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds during the regular season. They double-team West and force the Musketeers to shoot from outside. Sato can work the low post opposite of West or torch the Terps from outside. The 6-5, 205-pound Sato averaged 18.1 points and 7.1 rebounds during the regular season.

He also left behind a lot of favorable impressions.

"He loves to play the game," said former Terps assistant Billy Hahn, now the head coach at La Salle. "He plays with a smile on his face. He plays with a passion. That guy is a killer. I want to have 10 players like him."

Said ESPN commentator Jay Bilas: "He has emerged to be one of the true stars on the college basketball landscape. Romain Sato is incredibly versatile. He can guard a one, two or a three and he is a great rebounder because of his athleticism and a nose for the ball. He has a great stroke and deep range. He can shoot it off the catch or off the dribble."

Sato is where Caner-Medley wants to go.

There have been some flashes of potential greatness from the freshman and native of Portland, Maine, like the team-high seven rebounds and seven points he had coming off the bench against Virginia on Feb. 6, or the career-high 14 points he had against Georgia Tech three days later.

Maybe no one on the team, except backup point guard John Gilchrist, goes to the basket harder than Caner-Medley. But he still is a little uncoordinated and lacks consistency.

One minute he is playing tough and making plays, and then, poof, he is gone.

"He does some great things, but then in about five minutes, you don't see much going on," Williams said of Caner-Medley, who has started eight of the past nine games. "He has to create the action.

"In high school, everything went through him. Here, he has to make things happen, like grabbing a big offensive rebound or having to make a big defensive stop that nobody notices to help you win a game. He was so much better than anybody he played against in Maine. Here, he has had to relearn the game."

He might get another lesson today. Going into the game, Maryland has an edge in the backcourt with Nicholas and Steve Blake over Dedrick Finn and Lionel Chalmers. Again, Nicholas and Blake will have to carry the team the way they have most of the season to pull out the win.

But for the Terps to stay in position to win, Holden and Randle have to play well inside and Caner-Medley has to hold his own against Sato. If not, Sato has a complete enough game to end Maryland's reign as defending national champions.

"I've had a chance to guard Julius Hodge and a Player of the Year candidate in Josh Howard," Caner-Medley said. "He [Sato] is a good scorer who really goes to the glass hard. I'm glad I'm guarding him. I respect him, but there is no way I'm going to be intimidated by him. And it's not just going to be me on him. We have to play good, team defense."

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