College Park -- Asked yesterday how much he had played point guard in high school, Maryland junior guard D.J. Strawberry paused before saying "not much."
Then he immediately corrected himself, realizing he hadn't played there at all.
Maryland coach Gary Williams is giving him the chance.
Strawberry, who earned a reputation as the team's top defender, appears to be leading the competition for point guard at practices. At the very least, Williams said, Strawberry's return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee gives him options with the lineup that weren't there last season. Strawberry also has the ability to play shooting guard or the three spot.
"It's been very competitive," Williams said of the point guard position. "D.J. gives us a lot of flexibility. That's what we missed the most last year when he was hurt. You couldn't change things as much as you can when D.J.'s around."
After missing the final 18 games of last season, Strawberry said he doesn't care where he plays in tomorrow's 2 p.m. exhibition game against St. Francis Xavier at Comcast Center - he just wants to play again.
"I'm never surprised about any spot they put me in," he said. "I just want to go out there and play, and I think Coach knows that."
Although Williams is constantly changing lineups at practice, Strawberry appears to be the early frontrunner over Sterling Ledbetter, who started the final four games of last season, and Parrish Brown, a junior-college transfer from Chicago.
If Williams wants a smaller lineup, he can put Strawberry at small forward and use Ledbetter and Chris McCray at the one (point guard) and two (shooting guard) positions, respectively. Williams can also have a strong offense with Strawberry at point guard, and McCray and Mike Jones at shooting guard and small forward.
Strawberry, who bulked up by about 10 pounds, said Williams told him to work on his ball-handling skills during the offseason. Strawberry returned to Mater Dei High School in Corona, Calif., to work at the position with his former coach.
McCray said all three point guards are strong defensive players, but offensively, Strawberry brings the ball upcourt quicker.
"I guess he's more comfortable and has been here longer than the other two guys," he said. "With the other two guys, they want to run the offense and not make as many mistakes because they just got here and they're still learning. With D.J., it's more like freelancing out there."
Strawberry's only past experience at the position was as a backup two seasons ago. He played in the overtime period in a win against Florida, when he scored five points, had four rebounds and two steals.
McCray said Strawberry doesn't need much time to learn a new position.
"D.J., he's a basketball player," McCray said. "If Coach asked him to play center, D.J. would find a way to do it. D.J's going to look really good at the point. ... He's definitely made a smooth transition."
Williams said Brown is still thinking too much instead of just reacting but that "he'll be fine."
"The point guard is the toughest position because you're supposed to know the other positions," Williams said. "When you run the offense, you know where guys are going to open up and things like that."
Strawberry said he likes running the team.
"It just comes naturally," he said. "As a point guard, you have to be a leader, you have to be vocal. I think I bring that on the floor. I'm very vocal, and I'm very outspoken. It just comes naturally to me, running the offense and telling people where to go."