Strawberry gets on-the-job training

Results have been mixed, but talented Terp says he can handle new point guard position

December 14, 2005|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

College Park -- It's perhaps the most difficult position in basketball to learn, yet nine games into the season, D.J. Strawberry sat in front of his locker at Comcast Center and asserted he knows what he's doing as Maryland's new starting point guard.

"I'm not trying to figure it out," the former forward said, scoffing at the notion otherwise. "I'm playing point guard. I just go out there and play it."

Strawberry, the team's top defender, has earned the reputation as an emotional, energetic player who uses his instincts to create problems for opponents. It's that same raw emotion coach Gary Williams said he loves about the junior, though that sometimes conflicts with his responsibility of patiently running Maryland's offense.

"D.J., he never had to be under control," Williams said. "It's hard making him a point guard because some of the great things he does, he just does it. He's a great anticipator, but when you play point guard, you can't be that way with the ball. You have to be the guy who gets everybody to their spots.

"For what we have to do this year, we need D.J. to play some minutes there at the point," Williams added. "He's really trying to learn the game, which is a great thing."

While some outside the program have questioned if Strawberry can guide Maryland through the Atlantic Coast Conference, he has earned the confidence of those within it.

"He's the point guard, so if he thinks he could take this guy on, he thinks he could penetrate and create something, that's his job," said senior forward Travis Garrison. "There's really no problem, as long as it's productive and it helps."

Sometimes it has, sometimes it hasn't.

Strawberry had 12 assists and no turnovers in a win over Nicholls State, but struggled in the Terps' loss to No. 19 George Washington and couldn't get Maryland back into its offensive sets. Strawberry accounted for seven of his team's 25 turnovers in the 78-70 loss.

"What happened against GW is going to happen to any person who's trying to play a different position," Williams said. "He wasn't intimidated; he just tried to do too much. There's a difference."

Against then-No. 6 Boston College on Sunday, Williams could be heard yelling, "Run the offense. ... Run the PLAY!" Strawberry had picked up two fouls in the first half, and spent the remaining 11 minutes on the bench with a scowl on his face.

"I just make mental mistakes sometimes," said Strawberry, who leads the team with 21 steals and is averaging 5.0 assists and 2.6 turnovers a game. "I make mistakes I shouldn't make. Sometimes I throw the ball away and it's my fault. He [Williams] knows I'm too good of a player to do that. He gets on me and wants me to do everything right. He's a perfectionist, so he wants me to play like that."

In a slow start against Western Carolina last Wednesday, Williams screamed in Strawberry's face before he inserted junior Parrish Brown into the lineup. Brown, whose opportunity came at the expense of injured guard Chris McCray, led the Terps with a career-best five assists and grabbed four rebounds in 18 minutes.

Senior forward Nik Caner-Medley said he is comfortable with Brown as the backup.

"He's the type of point guard who plays the game the right way. He does all the little things, plays hard defense, and he works hard in practice every day, so he's going to earn time," Caner-Medley said. "The more and more experience he gets playing at this level, the better he's going to be."

Ideally, Williams has said he would like to have Strawberry at the small-forward position, but the early departure of John Gilchrist left him little alternative. McCray proved he could run the offense in a win against Arkansas when Strawberry was sidelined with four fouls, but he is the team's top shooter with an average of 17.0 points a game.

Senior Sterling Ledbetter, who started the final four games of last season at point guard, has played in every game and is averaging 11.3 minutes. And Brown, who transferred from Kennedy King Community College in Chicago, is still adjusting to Maryland's offense and the higher level of competition.

Williams said it's a difficult position because point guards have to learn all of the positions.

"You have to know where everybody is on the court," Williams said. "You have to know the flow of the game, where you could get away with being an inside player if you rebound and play defense and not really know how the game works. The point-guard position is the toughest to learn because it's the most to learn."

Strawberry, though, said he has it all figured out.

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

American@No. 21 Maryland Dec. 23, 8 p.m., Comcast SportsNet, 1300 AM, 105.7 FM

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