January 19, 2004
COLLEGE PARK In most cases, there is something fundamentally wrong when
a team's point guard routinely leads his team in scoring. It usually means that
either the point guard is shooting too much or the players in more traditional
scoring positions are not producing.
There are rare exceptions, as when a player (see former Duke great Jason Williams)
is both a dynamic playmaker and an efficient scorer, but normally the point
guard's job is to run the offense and distribute the ball.
That traditionally has been the case in Maryland's flex offense, which features
sets designed to set up the wings and post players for high-percentage opportunities.
That's why coach Gary Williams rightfully grew concerned recently, when he saw
point guard John Gilchrist assuming more and more of the team's scoring chores.
Coming off a career-best 27-point performance against Georgia Tech, Gilchrist
was Maryland's second-leading scorer. The 6-1 sophomore was averaging 15 points
per game, the highest mark of any point guard in Williams' 15-year tenure in
Former Maryland point guards Duane Simpkins and Steve Blake were capable scorers,
good shooters who also could take the ball to the basket. Yet neither Simpkins
nor Blake ever ranked higher than the third-leading scorer on his team, and
then only as seniors. Blake was Maryland's fifth-leading scorer for three of
his four seasons as the starter. Simpkins was the fourth- then fifth-leading
scorer for two of his three seasons as the starter.
Heck, even an unabashed gunner such as Sarunas Jasikevicius scored only 12.4
points per game fourth-best on the team in his lone season as the Terps'
starting point guard. That's because Williams wants his point guard to make
sure the flex offense is running smoothly and distributing the ball around to
the other four players on the court. Simpkins and Blake easily could have averaged
15 points per game, but prior to their senior seasons they shot the ball only
when it was a natural product of the system.
In the case of Gilchrist, he's not jacking up ill-advised shots. In fact,
he leads the team in field goal percentage, he's come up big in key games, and
he's playing better overall than anyone would have expected at this early stage
of his career. Importantly, he doesn't look even a little bit out of place in
a conference loaded with excellent players at his position.
However, the fact that Gilchrist is taking so many shots is problematic, because
it inherently means he's not passing the ball to others. That development usually
causes this year's Maryland offense to stagnate, if not entirely break down.
Gilchrist fired up 159 shots through mid-January, compared to 108 for shooting
guard Chris McCray, and the Terps' offense simply isn't designed to produce
Part of the problem, of course, is a severe lack of production at two positions
on the court: wing guard and power forward. Gilchrist essentially is having
to serve as both the point and shooting guards, and he has only two other reliable
offensive options sophomore forward Nik Caner-Medley and senior center Jamar
Smith at his disposal.
For Maryland to be successful this season, that dynamic must change. Coaches
want Gilchrist to trust his teammates a bit more and do a better job of setting
them up with scoring opportunities. The headstrong youngster needs to curb his
instinct to just get the job done himself and work harder to create a free-flowing
offense that gets everyone involved.
It's not surprising that some of Gilchrist's highest point totals have come
in the toughest games. He had 18 in the overtime victory over Florida and 20
in a come-from-behind win over North Carolina. Basically, when the going gets
tough, Gilchrist gets going to the basket. A powerfully built player, he is
very strong taking the ball to the hoop, can knock down open three-pointers
and has a nice pull-up shot off the dribble.
For the most part, the fact that Gilchrist is shooting and scoring more than
any point guard in the Williams era hasn't stood out as a problem. However,
he flat-out hogged the ball against Georgia Tech, and the rest of the Terps
wound up standing around and watching. It was obvious afterward that Williams
was not happy about that development.
I didn't like much about our offense. We weren't able to run our sets. I
don't know how hard we tried, Williams said. We have to start doing a better
job of running half-court offense.
Power Forward: Two Beats One
Williams hopes he's onto something with the idea of employing a two-headed
monster at power forward.
Sophomore Travis Garrison and freshman Ekene Ibekwe both have obvious strengths
and weaknesses. Williams is hoping the two of them, used wisely as a tag-team
tandem, can provide the type of production the Terrapins need out of the position.
It worked well against UNC, as Garrison and Ibekwe combined for 20 points
and 11 rebounds while splitting the minutes pretty evenly (24 for Garrison,
19 for Ibekwe). That level of production had Williams beaming and believing
the set-up could work.
I think Travis and Ekene kind of complement each other, Williams said. They're
different types of players in terms of what they do. I'd like to see them feed
off each other.
Garrison is more fundamentally sound but also more mechanical. The sophomore
also is heavier, bulkier and stronger than Ibekwe, which makes him a better
interior defender and in theory a more effective post-up threat. Ibekwe is far
more athletic and a much better leaper. The 6-9 rookie also has extremely long
arms, making him a better shotblocker and inside finisher. Garrison (6-8, 238)
has more range and a more reliable jumper. Ibekwe runs the floor and scores
in transition better. Garrison handles the ball a little better. Ibekwe brings
more emotion and excitement to the court.
Neither player is the perfect power forward at this point, but each brings
some positive traits to the table. Obviously, the key for Williams is knowing
how and when to use Garrison and Ibekwe, doling out playing time based on matchups
and the flow of the game.
What is undeniable is that Ibekwe has a far better upside than Garrison. The
211-pound bean pole needs to add weight and strength while improving his perimeter
shooting, but he has all of the tools necessary to become an outstanding power
forward. Garrison, unfortunately, is much closer to reaching his full potential
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