Lineup in flux, UM back on court

`Surprise' possible, Williams says, for game vs. American

December 23, 2006|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun Reporter

COLLEGE PARK -- There is a dry erase board in the players' lounge at Comcast Center where Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams scribbles down the names of his five starters before each game and whom they will be matched up against.

There's a reason it's not in permanent ink.

Williams switched his lineup Dec. 13 - the last time the team played - and said "there might be some element of surprise" when Maryland resumes its schedule against American at 1 p.m. today at Comcast Center.

Freshman guard Greivis Vasquez earned his first collegiate start against Missouri-Kansas City in place of Eric Hayes, and forward Bambale Osby started in place of Ekene Ibekwe.

It's not something Williams likes to make a habit of because he said he likes his players to know their roles in the rotation, but added that this is the time of year to figure out which lineup works best. American (7-3) is the first in a string of four nonconference opponents before Maryland (10-2) begins the heart of the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule Jan. 10 against Miami.

"What you try to do is get some guys playing to the best of their ability," Williams said. "Some guys play well off the bench, some guys start, do a good job of that. You try to find that out."

Clearly, though, it's a change that matters more to the players than it does to the coaching staff.

"It's kind of a big deal, actually," said senior guard Mike Jones. "We never know who's going to start, we never know who's going to be out there. We try to make it seem like each practice determines your playing time."

The additions of Hayes, Vasquez and Osby to the roster have given Williams more depth to work with this season. So far, they have all been reliable role players - none of them is among the Terps' top four scorers - but each brings different strengths to the lineup.

It was the second time this season that Osby has started in place of Ibekwe, who did not play at Illinois because he was injured. Osby had 10 points and eight rebounds that night but had a quiet starting debut at Comcast. Ibekwe added seven rebounds and two blocks off the bench in the last game.

"I think it matters," Ibekwe said of getting the starting nod. " ... It's all in Coach's hands. He makes the decisions. That would be the best five because Coach definitely knows what he's doing. He knows what's best for the team."

In his first collegiate start, Vasquez tied his season high with eight assists and didn't take a shot because he had struggled in a loss at Boston College and said he instead wanted to concentrate on putting his teammates into position to score. Hayes is also a pass-first guard, averaging 4.4 assists per game.

The first plays on both ends of the court by Osby (basket, block) and Vasquez (rebound, assist) led Maryland to a strong start against Missouri-Kansas City, but neither Williams nor his players could attribute that spark specifically to a change in the lineup. Jones said he did notice a difference, though, with Vasquez running the offense, and it's a reflection of the guards' polar personalities.

Hayes is quiet - shy even - and plays efficiently, but lacks the visible emotion of Vasquez. Jones has already started plotting how he's going to finally get a rise out of his teammate.

"I honestly think a lot of guys are going to have to throw Eric in the cold shower just to get him mad," Jones said, laughing. "He stays one way the whole time, he doesn't really change. I'm not taking anything away from him, it's a great personality to have, but in certain situations you need that point guard to go after it - not saying he doesn't go after it - but with that aggression and just get fired up."

Vasquez electrifies his teammates but is also unpredictable at times in his haste to make something happen.

"I just think that when you have that vocal point guard who is real aggressive at times," Jones said, "that definitely gives us a little edge."

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