Ledbetter ready to give boost

Junior college transfer says quickness is back

team irked at rankings

Maryland notebook

College Basketball

October 14, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Sterling Ledbetter felt the lift on his jump shot coming back a couple of weeks ago. Then came that burst that he's always felt in his legs, that jolt of quickness that made him a prolific scorer and playmaker at Laurel High and Allegany Community College.

Surveying the scene on the Comcast Center court yesterday as the 2004-05 Maryland men's basketball team met the media just three days before the Terrapins begin organized practice, Ledbetter pronounced himself fit and ready.

And when he looked back - after the two years he spent at junior college, after the car accident in May that left his Maryland career in doubt - Ledbetter considered himself one lucky Terp.

"I feel real good now," said the 6-foot-4, 195-pound junior who is expected to back up junior John Gilchrist at point guard. "I see this as a new challenge and I believe I can do it. I don't expect it to be easy. My goal is just to come out and help this team win."

Ledbetter and freshman James Gist, a 6-8 forward from Good Counsel in Wheaton, are the only two additions to a team that went 20-12 last year and shrugged off more than three months of inconsistency to win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

After averaging 13.9 points, 7.1 assists and 6.1 rebounds last season for Allegany, Ledbetter signed with Maryland, opting to follow in the footsteps of former Terps Steve Francis, Ryan Randle and Jamar Smith, who each parlayed strong junior college careers into success in College Park.

Ledbetter said playing at Maryland was one of his dreams, but it was a dream that nearly came apart after he fell asleep at the wheel on an early May morning while driving on Interstate 70 in Frederick County and got into a one-car accident.

He was flown by helicopter to Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown and the diagnosis was a dislocated hip, missing teeth, bone chips in his ankle and a hole in the bottom of his lip.

"It could have been much worse and I was just thanking God really," said Ledbetter, who rehabbed for the past three months. "But it's all back - my quickness, my confidence. I'm ready to go."

Rankings, respect

Many of the national preseason polls have been released and the Terps have been ranked anywhere from 10th to 20th, and fourth to sixth in the ACC.

Coach Gary Williams joked about the rankings, saying, "[The ACC title] really meant a lot. I see us picked sixth in the league this year. I don't think we impressed too many people."

To junior forward Nik Caner-Medley, the Terps' preseason ranking was not a laughing matter.

"To see our team ranked 20th, that's blatant disrespect," he said. "We don't put much stake in the preseason rankings because our job is to just go out and play. ... All you can do is use it as motivation."

Bulking up

Not knowing exactly where he'll fit in the Terps' rotation this season, sophomore Ekene Ibekwe has put on about 10 pounds of muscle to help him deal better with some of the ACC's bigger players.

"I have an idea," Ibekwe (6-9, 210 pounds) said of his role this year. "To get that playing time, I am probably going to have to play [center]. I expect to start, but practice is going to determine that."

Sophomore guard D.J. Strawberry, who has also added about 10 pounds of muscle, said much of his offseason work was done on the court.

"I just lived in the gym, just taking shot after shot, hundreds a day," Strawberry said. "I just have to do more things on the court, make more plays."


Asked whether he may leave school a year early to apply for entry in the NBA draft after this season, Gilchrist was noncommittal.

"It's kind of hard not to listen to the whispers, but all I can do is take it one day at a time and enjoy college life," he said. "I just take everything in stride."

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