Terps' backup plan has role for Collins

Sophomore point guard back in playing rotation

Maryland notebook

College Basketball

March 27, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Sophomore Andre Collins finally feels like he has a future at the University of Maryland.

As the third point guard on the Terps' roster behind senior Steve Blake and freshman John Gilchrist, Collins has not always felt that way.

Last season, after joining Maryland following a year at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., Collins watched the Terps sign Gilchrist, a highly touted recruit and a two-time Virginia Player of the Year out of Salem High School who had been pursued aggressively by Indiana and North Carolina State.

Then, with the ascent of the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Gilchrist into the role as Blake's backup, the playing time Collins had anticipated after a summer of basketball and strength and conditioning work did not materialize. Collins, a 160-pound player generously listed at 5-9, did not play in 10 of Maryland's first 12 Atlantic Coast Conference games.

That got Collins, who guided Crisfield High School to a Class 1A state title as a senior, discouraged enough to think seriously about transferring after the season. But things have changed lately. With freshman guard Chris McCray's role decreasing, Collins has played in each of Maryland's past seven games, getting at least 10 minutes of playing time on three occasions. He even entered Sunday's South Regional second-round game against Xavier ahead of Gilchrist.

Collins played only three minutes in the 77-64 victory over the Musketeers, although he dished out two assists to help the Terps stun Xavier by taking a 45-28 halftime lead.

"Lately, it feels like I've been needed and that I could provide something," said Collins, who is averaging 5.9 minutes and 2.3 points and has 17 assists and only six turnovers this season. "I've been coming to the game to try to give us a spark. It's that time of the year when the team needs as much help as it can get. I just want to know I have a chance to get on the court."

Collins is growing on Maryland coach Gary Williams.

"Andre has a way of picking us up. The players like Andre. They know how hard he works," Williams said. "He looks like a little guy, which he is, but he's got a big heart, and he's ready to sacrifice. If he doesn't get into a game, he comes ready to work the next day in practice."

Collins' emergence began on Feb. 22, when he jumped all over North Carolina with the rest of the Maryland bench in a 96-56 rout by scoring eight points and adding four steals and three assists in 10 minutes. Three days later, he had five points and three assists in 11 minutes during a 39-point romp over Clemson.

He has been part of the Terps' 10-man rotation ever since. With Blake about to finish his Maryland career, Collins looms as the only true backup point guard on next year's team, which could weigh heavily on his decision to stay in College Park.

"It's hard to say right now," said Collins, who plans to meet with Williams to discuss his future after the season. "With the minutes I've been getting lately, I'd say I'll be back next year."

Said Williams: "Steve Blake is leaving, and that's 36 minutes [per game leaving with him]. Andre knows that. He's put in two years here. He knows how we play. Who knows what his role will be? You never know."

Spartan existence

If you think Michigan State is a potential pushover in tomorrow's South Regional semifinal in San Antonio, think again. The Spartans (21-12) are a No. 7 seed with a record that doesn't look imposing, they have trouble scoring on many nights and they have only one player, sophomore guard Chris Hill (14.0 ppg), averaging in double figures.

But the Spartans are a deep, physical bunch that plays rugged defense (allowing 60.6 points a game), has a way of grabbing key rebounds and has overcome many injuries while winning seven of the past eight games.

Guards Maurice Ager (6.4 ppg) and Rashi Johnson and forwards Alan Anderson (9.8 ppg) and Adam Wolfe have missed a combined 28 games, and Michigan State's 13 scholarship players did not practice together until Jan. 16.

One eye on Iraq

The NCAA tournament rolls on, and the teams still playing keep trying to block out distractions. Yet, the war in Iraq is impossible to ignore.

"A lot of things don't hit home with 18- to 22-year-olds, but the situation in Iraq has hit home," said Williams, who watches war updates with the team before studying opponents with them on videotape.

Said Maryland guard Drew Nicholas: "Everyone respects the courage and bravery those guys show. We're the same age. It could be us."

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