UM waits till next season

Play of freshmen, tournament experience temper frustration

Ncaa Tournament

March 19, 2007|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun Reporter

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Maryland coach Gary Williams and freshman guard Greivis Vasquez - perhaps the two most parallel personalities within the program - handled the Terps' loss to Butler in the second round of the NCAA tournament in a similarly frustrated fashion.

Neither will be able to let it go anytime soon.

"It's something that I'm going to watch all year," Vasquez said. "I'm going to go farther next year.

"I'm the type of guy, I want something better than this," he said. "People are going to say we had a great season, the freshmen did pretty good, put the team in the tournament. So what? Who cares about the tournament? Who cares about what people are going to say? We want a championship. I want a championship."

Vasquez and three fellow freshmen still have time to accomplish that goal, and those within the program agree this year's return to the NCAA tournament for the first time in three seasons provided a valuable experience and strong foundation for the underclassmen to build upon. Vasquez, who started 22 games at point guard, and freshman guard Eric Hayes arrived facing lofty expectations to help Maryland return to the prominent postseason tournament. Now, with the pending departure of six seniors, they are already anticipating the responsibility of keeping the program there for the duration of their careers.

"We know what it takes to get here now," said Hayes, who started the first 11 games, played in all 34 and averaged 23.3 minutes. "I think it's a good building block, because there's going to be a lot on our shoulders next year. The experience we got this year is going to help us a lot in future years. I don't think many people know how hard it is [to get to the NCAA tournament], especially in our league. You can go anywhere and lose any night."

Maryland (25-9) managed both to exceed expectations and fall short of them in the same season. The Terps got off to a 1-4 start in the Atlantic Coast Conference and seemed destined to return to the National Invitation Tournament for the third straight season. Instead they made an impressive comeback with a seven-game winning streak to close out the regular season in a tie for third place in the league. Maryland entered the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the country, but flopped against Miami - which finished last in the league - in the first round of the ACC tournament.

Still, the Terps earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament and seemed capable of advancing to the Sweet 16.

They couldn't match Butler's offense Saturday, though, and missed free throws played a part in their season-ending, 62-59 loss to the fifth-seeded Bulldogs.

"I'm not satisfied with this," Vasquez said after the game.

In his first season leading the offense, Vasquez averaged 4.6 assists and 2.7 turnovers. Along with Vasquez and Hayes, the Terps will also return freshmen Jerome Burney and Landon Milbourne. Burney, a 6-foot-9 forward, decided to redshirt this season after he fractured a bone in his left foot about two weeks before practice started, and Milbourne played sparingly because he was the backup to senior swingman D.J. Strawberry.

What Maryland won't have next season will be an abundance of senior leadership.

The only two seniors on scholarship both will be in the frontcourt. James Gist showed marked improvement this season, and junior-college transfer Bambale Osby developed into a reliable player off the bench. Osby, who averaged 5.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 13.3 minutes, is likely to move into the starting lineup next season.

"James and the two freshman guards, it's great they got to play and win 25 games because they know they can get it done," Williams said. "They know they're good enough to play. With James, he improved a great deal between his sophomore and junior year. Hopefully he'll make the same improvement between his junior and senior year. Bambale Osby goes from playing in front of 200 people into a game like this."

Gist raised his averages from 8.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in 2005-06 to 12.6 points and 7.2 rebounds this season. He ranked fourth in the ACC with 2.12 blocks per game.

"It's a goal for me next year, because I've actually gotten to get here," Gist said of the NCAA tournament. "I want to do that again. Next year I'm going to try to push the guys as hard as I can and make them realize how hard we actually have to work to be here."

Williams said the NCAA men's tournament is "the toughest NCAA sport to qualify for," and that he, too, will try to improve next year.

"Each year you try and be a better coach," he said. "The game is a great game because you never know everything about the game. You take things personally as a coach. You don't blame the players when they don't do certain things right. I could've done a better teaching job. That's how you have to look at it. That's how to keep getting better. That's what I try to do."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

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