McCray adds muscle to his game

Terps guard redoubled efforts by putting focus on shooting, weight room

College Basketball

December 23, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Chris McCray had just lived through a forgettable night shooting the basketball against George Mason, and the Maryland Terrapins' sophomore guard quickly settled on a course of action. He returned a few hours after the crowd had vacated Comcast Center, and began to shoot, shoot and shoot some more.

McCray said that he has split about 1,000 such after-hours shots with teammates John Gilchrist and Nik Caner-Medley several times this season. Maryland coach Gary Williams sees it as more proof of McCray's commitment to the game.

"Chris has a great deal of potential, and at times last year he showed flashes of it. What he did after his freshman year was re-dedicate himself to basketball," Williams said. "He feels he has made the sacrifice to become a better player. I think he has much more confidence now than he did last year at any time."

The evidence on McCray is showing up in a variety of places. His 6-foot-5 frame now supports a more toned, muscular 180 pounds, which points to the work he has done in the weight room. His game, which got more seasoning last summer when he toured Eastern Europe with the USA Junior National team, is more well-rounded and consistent.

McCray is no longer the skinny kid who lit up so many opponents with his scoring ability at Fairmont Heights High School in Prince George's County. And he is no longer the skinny kid who got pushed around often in the Atlantic Coast Conference a year ago, when his playing time dropped precipitously over the season's final two months.

"It's a big adjustment [playing in the ACC]. The game is just so fast, and people are bigger and stronger," McCray said. "In high school, you're used to seeing centers who are about 6-4. It wore me down last year running guys down and fighting through screens."

McCray, who averaged 9.3 minutes and hit a midseason wall a year ago, is now an established starter who is helping the Terps all over the floor. And, while Gilchrist and freshman reserve guard D.J. Strawberry have drawn rave reviews during No. 24 Maryland's 6-2 start, McCray quietly has added backbone to the Terps' backcourt.

He ranks fourth in the team in scoring with an average of 11.1 points. He leads Maryland with 19 steals. He ranks second to Gilchrist in assists with 29, even though he is a shooting guard. McCray's seven-assist, no-turnover night in last week's 96-72 rout of Pepperdine basically slipped under the radar.

McCray works the boards, as his 3.6-rebound average attests. He also is the shining star on a team trying to find its way at the free-throw line. His 82.6 percent foul shooting (19-for-23) leads the squad.

"On defense, I think I'm doing a good job getting steals and creating easy baskets for me and my teammates," said McCray, who averages 32.1 minutes per game. "Coach still wants me to be more aggressive on the offensive end. I'm looking for my shot a little bit more."

Early in the season, McCray was hesitant as a shooter, which he thinks contributed to a slump. Against No. 15 Wisconsin three weeks ago, McCray shot with less of a conscience and began to break out of his funk by missing just two of eight attempts during Maryland's overtime win. Over his past three games, he has made seven of 16 three-pointers. He is still shooting just 42 percent overall, but can feel the stroke returning.

On defense, McCray is building a reputation with his long arms, quick hands and ability to anticipate and gamble at the right time. When he and the 6-5 Strawberry play together in a three-guard alignment, the Terps can create extra havoc in the passing lanes, more effectiveness with their half-court traps and full-court pressure.

When the season began, Williams pronounced McCray as possibly his most improved player. The coach is not changing his mind.

"[McCray's] work on defense has really stood out. He's aggressive. When you're aggressive and you make a mistake, I can live with that. After he made a couple of shots, he started to shoot it well," Williams said.

"Very few guys come in and are really ready to go as freshmen, with the intensity level that's out there. It's part of the learning process. [Now] he knows what we're doing."

Terps tonight

Matchup: North Carolina-Greensboro (4-5) vs. No. 24 Maryland (6-2)

Site: Comcast Center, College Park

Time: 8

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 21

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