This time, Terps' Caner-Medley not shy about jumping right in

Recovery from hurt ankle rejuvenates sophomore

November 29, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - University of Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams used to joke about forward Nik Caner-Medley joining the real world a year ago.

Williams watches the 6-foot-8 Caner-Medley now, and no longer sees a talented kid from Portland, Maine, trying to adapt to the grind of a collegiate game that doesn't wait long for stragglers to gain confidence, develop a respectable jump shot or play acceptable defense.

Two games into his sophomore season, Williams looks at Caner-Medley as a focused, mature, blossoming force. Having a better-developed, 233-pound frame without losing quickness or excellent leaping ability helps. So does overcoming a severe ankle injury, which pushed Caner-Medley to rededicate himself to his craft.

"You can tell Nik is a year older. He knows what it takes," Williams said. "He knows where the ball should go, not just, if I'm open, that's when I'm supposed to shoot. To be a complete player, you have to know how to get other people open shots. He's become a better player.

"I think, for the first time [last year], Nik thought this [basketball career] could be fleeting. You can tell he's worked hard to get better."

Caner-Medley has loved the game for so long, but never as much as he does now. March 28 changed him. That night, early in Maryland's NCAA tournament loss to Michigan State, he landed awkwardly underneath the basket, lay on the floor in excruciating pain, had to be helped off the court, then spent the rest of the evening in a San Antonio hospital, where doctors started to repair his dislocated left ankle.

By mid-spring, he was off crutches. By early summer, he was back home rehabilitating the ankle and falling in love with basketball all over again, sometimes by working out in a handful of gyms during a given week. Since getting cleared to play on July 1, Caner-Medley has not looked back.

"Anybody who goes through an injury learns to appreciate the little things. I look at basketball a lot differently," Caner-Medley said. "I was so happy to have a ball in my hands just shooting around this summer. I'd go to a different gym any day if I had to. I worked on everything I could think of."

The fruits of Caner-Medley's labor have been on display at Comcast Center, where he figures to take another step forward tonight against the visiting Hofstra Pride.

Through two games, Caner-Medley is averaging 16 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and shooting 56 percent. The ability to elevate for rebounds, put-backs and blocked shots is still there, as is that powerful drive to the basket. Caner-Medley is coming off a career-high 23-point effort in the Terps' 79-64 win over George Mason.

But his offensive game has expanded. He looks like a legitimate shooting threat from mid-range and from behind the three-point line. He wants to penetrate and pass more than he did as a freshman. He is rounding into a two-way threat at small forward and power forward.

"He's good enough to put the ball on the floor and create. He's a better shooter. If you can put the ball in the basket, now [defenders] have to play you, and that opens things up," Williams said.

"Nik learned a lot last year. Let's face it. For most really good high school players, you only have to work hard maybe four or five games a year. Nik found out there were some pretty good players out in the real world."

The game had come so easily to Caner-Medley. At Deering High School, he was the state's Mr. Basketball, scoring 30 or more points with regularity.

Then came the adjustments to the Atlantic Coast Conference - the road trips, the schedule that exceeded 30 games, the nasty competition two or three times a week for two months.

Caner-Medley was good enough to start 18 games, but was inconsistent enough to find himself on the bench for long stretches. He wound up averaging 5.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 16.7 minutes.

If Maryland, a team dominated by freshmen and sophomores, competes for another ACC crown and returns to the NCAA tournament, it will probably be due in part to key contributions from promising newcomers such as D.J. Strawberry, Ekene Ibekwe and Mike Jones.

It also will happen because a veteran such as Caner-Medley finds his place in the real world.

"I've tried to improve my all-around game and get into real good shape. I feel no pain, don't even think about the ankle," he said. "Playing hard and wanting to get better usually equals getting better. That's all I want. That's all this team wants."

Terps tonight

Matchup: Hofstra (1-2) vs. Maryland (2-0)

Site: Comcast Center, College Park

When: 8

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

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