Maryland's Williams exceeds expectations

Center has emerged as one of ACC's best freshmen

February 20, 2010|By Don Markus | don.markus@baltsun.com

COLLEGE PARK — - The story about the shattered backboard has faded. The questions about Jordan Williams' transition from small-town high school basketball to the big-time setting of the Atlantic Coast Conference are gone, too.

This is the reality for Maryland (18-7, 8-3) heading into today's game against Georgia Tech (18-8, 6-6) at Comcast Center: After 25 games, all but two of which he has started, Williams has become one of the best freshmen in the ACC.

Neither Maryland coach Gary Williams nor Tony Turina, who coached Jordan Williams throughout his career at Torrington (Conn.) High, seem that surprised by what the 6-foot-10, 260-pound center has done.

"He didn't get the publicity of some guys, but I thought he was a very good player for us the way we try to play," Gary Williams said Friday. "We needed an inside scoring threat that we didn't have last year, and he gave us that. The good thing for Jordan is that he got to play right away."

Turina, who came down to Maryland on Friday to watch his former star play, said Williams was a "late bloomer" in high school whose biggest attribute might be his soft hands. "In 39 years of coaching and officiating on the high school and college level, I've never seen a big man with better hands," Turina said.

Veteran college basketball analyst Dan Bonner recalled a conversation he had with Gary Williams early in the season. The coach said all he was looking for from his freshman center this season was defense and rebounding.

"He has provided that since Day One, but as his offense has come along and his understanding of the game has grown, Maryland has become a lot better as a team," Bonner said Friday.

That was evident in Wednesday's 67-58 comeback win at North Carolina State.

In a game in which senior guard Eric Hayes was held scoreless after spending much of the day either in bed or hooked up to an IV while suffering from what he called "flulike" symptoms, and in which sophomore guard Sean Mosley continued to struggle with his shot, Williams became the team's second scoring option behind senior guard Greivis Vasquez.

While helping lock down Wolfpack center Tracy Smith for the second time this season and collecting 11 rebounds, Williams tied a career high with 19 points. He had 11 of those points in the second half when Maryland came back from a 12-point deficit and finished the game on a 31-12 run.

It was the fourth time in the past six games that Williams scored in double figures and the third time during that stretch that he reached double figures in rebounds. It raised his season averages to 8.8 points and 8.1 rebounds, and his ACC averages to 9.3 points and 7.7 rebounds.

After the game, Jordan Williams credited Smith - who scored just 10 points - for his own performance.

"He's such a good player. He brings the best out of his opponents. He makes me want to play against him because he's so good," Williams said. "Anytime you play against competition like that, it's great. Guys like [ Florida State's Solomon] Alabi and Smith, they all bring the best out of me."

Williams will certainly face that type of competition against the Yellow Jackets, who rotate three-time ACC Freshman of the Week Derrick Favors (6-10, 246) with junior Gani Lawal (6-9, 234) and senior Zack Peacock (6-8, 235) between center and power forward. Williams will likely be matched up with either Favors or Lawal.

Though he started off a bit shaky against the Wolfpack, missing his first two field-goal attempts and his first two free throws, Williams settled down quickly after making his next two foul shots and his next three field-goal attempts in the first half.

"Confidence is a big thing," said Williams, who finished 7-for-10 from the field and 5-for-8 on free throws. "After you make your first couple of buckets, you get a little bit of confidence. That's basically for free throws, too. Every time you see the ball go over the rim [into the basket], it helps you a lot. My teammates started trusting me a lot more than they had been."

So has his coach, who decided to start Williams over fellow freshman James Padgett after junior Dino Gregory was forced to sit out the first eight games because of a violation of team rules. One of those games was against Villanova, when Williams scored 19 points and had 12 rebounds in a 95-86 loss to the then-No. 3 Wildcats.

"I think the Villanova game was big for him," Gary Williams said Friday. "He was able to gain confidence that he could play against some pretty good players, and that's helped him. ... He's playing with a very talented guard in Greivis, but also a very talented backcourt with Eric Hayes, so when Jordan gets open, our guys are good enough to get him the ball."

Gary Williams said Jordan Williams is still adjusting to the physicality of the college game, especially near the basket. For a player whose backboard shattering became a YouTube staple for Maryland fans awaiting his arrival, Williams still is a bit tentative going up for dunks.

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