Firing up Terps seniors, Williams ready to refuel

Coach `definitely wants a change,' senior-to-be Strawberry says

College basketball

Ncaa Tournament

March 20, 2006|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

COLLEGE PARK -- The day before the Maryland men's basketball team played Manhattan College at Comcast Center, Terrapins coach Gary Williams was asked if he had begun to think about next season.

"Not till this one's over," he said. "I never do that."

Less than 24 hours later, Manhattan had bounced the No. 1-seeded Terps from the first round of the National Invitation Tournament, and Williams immediately began to address the work that needs to be done if Maryland is to restore its tradition of 11 straight NCAA tournament appearances, before it played in the NIT the past two seasons.

Williams put the onus on the players, who seemed to agree the one thing that needs to change is their attitude, and publicly called for senior leadership, increased mental and physical toughness and a greater sense of team.

"He definitely wants a change," junior guard D.J. Strawberry said. "He said he's going to change this team. It's going to take a lot of work, and it's going to take a lot of work from us. We have to change more than he has to change. He's a great coach. He's done it. We have to change. We have to dedicate ourselves to basketball and love the game even more."

It was an unpredictable season for the Terps, and one in which Maryland was able to both overcome obstacles and turn over opportunities. The Terps came out strong in their first game without leading scorer Chris McCray, who was declared academically ineligible midway through the season, and beat Georgia Tech soundly in Atlanta for their first conference road win of the season.

And then they faltered.

Maryland ended the regular season with a strong three-game stretch, though, in which the Terps played some of their best defense to salvage a .500 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference and win a game in the ACC tournament.

Then they played one of their worst halves of the season against Boston College, making just seven field goals en route to a 41-22 halftime deficit. Maryland transferred those same problems into the NIT and finished with a 19-13 record.

"We need a couple things to happen with our team and we'll be fine," Williams said. "The good thing is, I know what it's going to take. Now, the tough part is to make it happen. It's one thing to know it, but as the coach, you can't get out there and play. You try to get that through to your players and you hope they're receptive."

Williams said his team needs to get stronger, as evidenced by numerous loose balls the Terps were beaten to this season.

"That comes from two things," he said. "That comes from strength and wanting the ball more than the other team does. You've got to want that."

When pressed by a reporter for more specific areas he wanted to see improvement in, Williams said, "There's a lot of things, but let's leave it at that one."

The one thing Maryland lacked this season was a true point guard, and at times the problem was glaring. Strawberry, who was mainly a forward in high school, took over the position after the early departure of John Gilchrist and struggled at times. He led the team with 94 turnovers, almost three per game.

"D.J. Strawberry certainly has some things to work on, but proved in big games that he's pretty good defensively, and this experience of handling the ball this year certainly has made him a better guard," Williams said. "He really made the effort this year."

Strawberry split some time at point guard with senior Sterling Ledbetter and Parrish Brown, a junior-college transfer from Chicago who was forced to learn quickly because of the unexpected departure of two guards.

"I used this year as a learning experience, learning everything we ran and about the competition of the ACC," Brown said. "In the offseason, I'm going to work on my ball-handing, shooting and conditioning so I can come back next year and have a good season."

The Terps are hoping the arrival of Maryland's freshman class will help the point guard situation - 6-foot-3 Eric Hayes from Potomac, Va., was recruited specifically for that position. Maryland also signed Greivis Vasquez, a versatile guard from Montrose Christian in Rockville, Jerome Burney Jr., a 6-9 power forward from Westlake High in Atlanta, and Landon Milbourne, a 6-6 small forward at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.

"I know we have a group coming in that are basketball players and want to get it done," Williams said. "Hopefully that will be infectious, and we'll go from there."

It's the seniors, though, Williams said he will rely on heavily. In addition to Strawberry, next year's senior class will include Brown, forward Ekene Ibekwe, center Will Bowers, guard Mike Jones and walk-on Gini Chukura.

"We need guys pulling other guys," Williams said. "The seniors always have a lot to do with the work ethic of the team, how much time they spend in the gym alone.

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