By Dave Glenn and staff
ACCSports.com January 17, 2005 Wake Wants Old Danelius Back WINSTON-SALEM All that crazy stuff you've read about Vytas Danelius over the last couple of years? Ignore it. That's what Danelius is doing. "I don't know what you mean by roller-coaster," he said recently, when a reporter used that phrase to describe his career. "I feel good. As a senior, I'm playing confident, playing as aggressive as I ever remember." Perhaps Danelius' resolution this year was to forget about the previous season and a half. If so, then Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser is probably glad to hear it. The moping, struggling, frustrated Danelius hasn't been fun to watch. Danelius' struggles since a break-out sophomore season have been well-documented, including battles with injuries, confidence, homesickness, parties, conditioning and more. His junior season ended up a washout, and the first half of this year was up and down, seemingly capped by a mid-game banishment to the locker room against Elon for a very public F-bomb. But since the ACC season started (and 2005 arrived), Danelius has looked energized. He scored Wake's first five points against Virginia, finishing with 10 points and seven rebounds. Against Maryland in the first half, he had five points, nine rebounds and a nice assist before hurting his ribs. He was so aggressive against the Terps that when he left the game the first time the home crowd gave him a noticeable ovation. Later, when he forcibly extricated himself from a jumpball situation, he drew chants of "Vytas, Vytas" from the stands. That was quite a change for a player whom many Wake fans have soured on. So how does this Danelius compare with the sophomore version? Some things haven't recovered, including a couple stats that indicate he's not the same player inside. He's not going to the line as much. He averaged a free throw every 7.2 minutes through his first three years. That's fallen to every 15.2 minutes this year. He's not blocking shots, either, dropping from one every 38.5 minutes to one every 140 minutes over the same time periods. On the other hand, his shooting percentage is back over 50 percent, and his rebounding never really left. Danelius' per-minute rebound averages are consistent: one every 4.0 as a freshman, 4.1 as a sophomore, 3.9 as a junior and 4.0 this year. His scoring isn't far off, either. He averaged a point every 2.5 minutes as a sophomore and every 2.9 this year. The biggest difference is that he played more than 30 minutes a game as a sophomore, almost 33 in ACC play. "We have such a good team and deep (this year)," Danelius said. "My stats are lower than my sophomore year, but we basically played six and a half guys my sophomore year." That perspective is helping Danelius, as is his unvarnished view of his role. "Basically, I just want to be a team guy who can do whatever it takes get an extra rebound or block out," he said. "Obviously, I'm a blue-collar guy, just doing the dirty work and getting physical with guys. I'm not going to let my team down no matter what." A hard look at the numbers, such as his influence on team rebounding, bears that out. Through the Maryland game, in the eight games when Danelius played more than 20 minutes, Wake out-rebounded its opponents by an average of 10.6. In the other seven games, that figure was 5.3. If you look at a version of hockey's plus/minus system for the Deacons in ACC play, Danelius comes out on top, tied with junior forward Chris Ellis perhaps showing the value of a bigger, aggressive power forward compared with Jamaal Levy. The Sports Journal's system adds or subtracts a point for every point the team scores or allows while the player is on the court, then divides by his time on the court. Through Maryland, Danelius and Ellis were +.85 (meaning the Deacons were .85 points better than their opponents each minute that player played). Junior center Eric Williams was next at +.72. When things are going right, Danelius brings a toughness to the mostly mild-mannered Deacons, and he can add a varied offensive game. "He brings an inside and outside game as a post player," Williams said. "He can shoot the three, he can post up. He brings that element of surprise to the game." Danelius' ability to shoot the three-pointer is a key in drawing defenders out of the lane. "It's worked pretty well for us," Danelius said. "Guys are coming after me, even if I miss a few shots. That's what we want. It's going to open up space inside for Eric to play and operate inside the paint." Of course, when things are going wrong, they still can go very wrong, especially on defense. That's why Prosser has to be conscious of the matchups and of Danelius' state of mind if he wants to give people a reason to forget recent history, as Danelius has. UNC: Watch Williams' Evolution CHAPEL HILL North Carolina freshman Marvin Williams is an X factor only in a very narrow sense of the term. He's already a consistent, productive college basketball player. He's going to be great perhaps awesome some day. The only question is when. "The first time I played with (Williams), I knew he was special," UNC center Sean May said. "There are things he can do that nobody else on this team can do, that only a few players in the world can do. He's unbelievably long, and he's a great athlete, but he's also very skilled. He has great hands, a great shooting touch. He's naturally aggressive, which is hard to find in a freshman. Saying 'the sky is the limit' is an understatement. He could be one of the best players ever to play here some day." Some day. Many long-time basketball observers believe Williams is so talented that he won't be in Chapel Hill long enough to achieve true greatness at the college level. Shoe camp guru Sonny Vaccaro referred to Williams last spring as a future "10-year NBA all-star" and encouraged him to turn pro straight out of high school. Sports Illustrated recently projected Williams as the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft this year despite the fact that he's unlikely to earn even third-team All-ACC honors this season. A 6-9 forward from Bremerton, Wash., Williams does not have a prominent role at UNC as a rookie. He's just another McDonald's All-American on a team full of them, in a program famous for them. He's playing in the shadows of May (a junior), junior point guard Raymond Felton, junior wing guard Rashad McCants and senior forward Jawad Williams. All four upperclassmen also played in the McDonald's game as high school seniors. "My main goal is to play hard, give those guys a rest, and get better every day," Marvin Williams said. "I'm learning a lot. The coaching staff is amazing with everything they know, and (May and Williams) have been great. My goal is to be able to play the way they play one day, and I've learned a lot from them about the right way to act off the court, too." Through 16 games, Williams typically was the Tar Heels' first or second player off the bench. He ranked fifth on the team in minutes per game (21.8), ahead of starting forward Jackie Manuel, and he was fifth in scoring (10.6) and second in rebounding (6.5). He was shooting 51 percent from the field, 85.1 percent from the line and 35.7 percent in limited attempts (five-for-14) from three-point range. At 14-2 in mid-January, UNC established itself as one of the best teams in the nation. The Tar Heels were disappointed to lose at Wake Forest, but on the season they couldn't have asked for much more from their five starters. Among the reserves, Williams is considered the best bet to improve his game significantly between now and March. "One of the best things about him is that he's humble and he wants to learn," Jawad Williams said. "He's not caught up in the hype. He listens to the coaches and listens to us. You tell him something once and he gets it. He's a great teammate. He's already giving us a lift every time he goes in there, and he's only going to get better." Rookie Shooter Helping Jackets ATLANTA Anthony Morrow arrived on Georgia Tech's campus last summer lacking defensive acumen and a knowledge of the college game. What Morrow didn't lack, and what has made him extremely valuable to the Yellow Jackets this season, is shooting ability and confidence. Especially confidence. "When it was time for a big shot (in high school), I always wanted to be the one to take it," Morrow said. "No matter what." Even before Morrow cracked the Yellow Jackets' rotation, the 6-5 freshman guard greeted made shots in practice with a sly, "I'm a shooter, coach. I'm a shooter," remark to coach Paul Hewitt. Hewitt didn't need much convincing on that aspect of Morrow's game. What the coach did need to see, however, was an ability to play defense, even adequate defense. Once Morrow proved he could do that, Hewitt inserted him into the rotation. The results have been hard to argue with. Morrow's emergence as a scoring threat off the bench has changed the dynamic of the Yellow Jackets' offense. In Tech's 11-3 start, he averaged 6.5 points in 13.6 minutes per game, while shooting 42.6 percent from three-point range. "He's not a guy who subscribes to the theory of let me get my feet wet," Hewitt said. An example: Morrow apparently took the first shot in his first pick-up game with his new teammates. "He feels like he's ready whenever you call on him." Morrow has provided the Yellow Jackets with the second shooter they lacked after the graduation of Marvin Lewis. Other than point guard Jarrett Jack (48.1 percent) and injured wing guard B.J. Elder (38.3), nobody else on this year's Tech team has shown an ability to knock down long-range shots with any consistency. "He is a very accurate three-point shooter, and he is very comfortable scoring off the dribble and mid-range game," Hewitt said. "Marvin was an excellent three-point shooter, but he wasn't as comfortable scoring off the dribble. Morrow, as he gets more comfortable, will be an outstanding three-point shooter. He's more streaky than consistent. As he gets more comfortable, he'll be more consistent." Morrow's confidence in his stroke has allowed him to flourish. He has a quick release and solid range. Increasingly, he has shown an ability to put the ball on the floor, thus avoiding rushing defenders, and pull up for mid-range jumpers. On a team with capable drive-and-dish guards in Jack and Will Bynum, plus a veteran big man who demands double teams in Luke Schenscher, Morrow's skills fit nicely. Hewitt decided to play Morrow more extensively after the Yellow Jackets' non-conference loss to Gonzaga. The defeat convinced Hewitt that Tech needed to develop more offensive weapons, and Morrow and freshman forward Ra'Sean Dickey have done just that. There are still questions, however, about Morrow's defensive ability. He has good size and quickness, but he has trouble keeping up with players through screens and sometimes simply loses his player on the defensive end. "They really emphasize defense," said Morrow, a Charlotte native who chose Tech over N.C. State. "I knew that was the biggest thing I was going to have to work on coming out of high school. I want to make sure I make better defensive plays than offensive plays." It likely will be a while before Morrow reaches that goal. Hewitt must stifle a smile when asked about Morrow's defense. It's not yet on par with his offensive game, but it's long pause improving, just as the Yellow Jackets have since Morrow joined the rotation. Maryland Needs Garrison Inside COLLEGE PARK Travis Garrison has been put on the spot. On a Maryland team without a true center, Garrison has become the most viable option. If the former McDonald's All-American embraces the role of scoring and especially defending and rebounding in the post, the Terps could become a decent team. If he doesn't, coach Gary Williams might as well use 7-0 sophomore Will Bowers and live with the consequences. "I know for this team to be successful, I need to step up inside," Garrison said. "I put a lot of pressure on my shoulders. I know that it's up to me to take control of the paint." Garrison talked a good game going into a non-conference meeting with overmatched Mount St. Mary's, but he did not back up those words in two tough ACC contests versus North Carolina and Wake Forest. He was overpowered on the low block by UNC center Sean May, who got several easy baskets in the early stages of a 34-point rout on Jan. 8. Garrison fouled out trying to defend Wake center Eric Williams, who dominated down low in recording a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) in a 15-point blowout three days later. More disturbing was the fact that Garrison managed just three rebounds against the Tar Heels and only six versus the Demon Deacons. Through 13 games, he averaged 6.5 boards per contest, about one more than point guard John Gilchrist. "I just need to get focused on rebounding," Garrison said. "I'm the guy in the middle. I'm supposed to be the one getting 10-12 rebounds a game." In Garrison's defense, he was not recruited to Maryland as a center. He came out of nearby prep power DeMatha Catholic as a face-the-basket forward who could shoot. He frequently has called himself "more of an outside type of player" during his time in College Park, and he often has referred to his jump shot his "bread and butter." Garrison's biggest basket to date at Maryland was an 18-footer that beat Florida in overtime. He hit several big perimeter shots during last year's ACC Tournament run and is a career 37 percent shooter from three-point range. "I've always been a good shooter, but it's time to give up some of those shots and move into the post area," Garrison said. "I've got to put the jumper in the back of my mind now and start taking the ball to the other big guys." It's almost as if Garrison is reiterating the mantra voiced by Williams, who has repeatedly implored the 6-8, 235-pounder to get into the lane. Maryland's flex offense is predicated on having a legitimate post threat, and Williams believes Garrison has the ability to become that. "Travis is a big guy. With his touch, I think he could score pretty well inside," Williams said. "If he could combine his perimeter shooting with a post-up game, that would be a really nice package." Unfortunately, Garrison also is the best option for defending opposing centers. Sophomore Ekene Ibekwe is a strong shotblocker, but the rail-thin 6-9, 210-pounder does not have the bulk to bang with the likes of UNC's May, Wake's Williams or Duke's Shelden Williams. Garrison has shown a willingness to become more of a pivot player this season. He has taken fewer three-pointers (15 through 13 games), while setting up on the low block more often. But he still does not look comfortable posting up, and his inside moves are not polished. "It's been a tough transition for me to play with my back to the basket. That's just not something I'm used to doing," Garrison said. "Sometimes I find myself still floating around out there on the outside. That's something I have to work on." Williams thinks a nastier, more aggressive attitude would help make Garrison more of an inside presence. The coach even joked that he'd like to see opponents come out and give Garrison "a little shot" early to get him angry. "Everybody has their own personality," Williams said. "Travis is a good guy. I like him a lot. But on the court, you want guys to go hard, to really get after it." One indication that Garrison still is not taking the ball to the basket strong comes from the fact that he's attempted only 35 free throws this season. That ranks fifth on the team, behind backup guard D.J. Strawberry. Williams pointed out that Garrison may be the team's best free throw shooter (85.7 percent this season) and said he could get a lot of easy points at the line by being more assertive inside. Miami: Last Chance For Frisby CORAL GABLES The waiting game continues at Miami, despite this being Will Frisby's last hurrah. For four years, UM followers have been awaiting a break-out season from Frisby, hoping that the lone leftover from former coach Perry Clark's first recruiting class begins to live up to the talent level he's flashed at times. But midway through his final season in Coral Gables, Frisby continues to be marred by inconsistency. His low post scoring prowess ideally would make him the perfect complement to the outside game of UM guards Robert Hite, Guillermo Diaz and Anthony Harris. There are nights when Frisby is a factor, scoring points in the paint and pounding the boards, but then there are others when he might as well be invisible. "I've always struggled finding my role," said Frisby, who's averaging 9.2 points and 6.6 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game this season. "Coming in as a young athlete, you never know where you fit in. My first few years, I never had an established position, an established spot. Once practice starts, you realize you have to work for what you've got, and at some points you lose trust and lose your faith. I'm consistently working at it. I want to be better. I spend a lot of time in the gym trying to get myself to that point." Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, Frisby has not yet proven to be a consistent effort guy on defense during games, and he's one of the few players on coach Frank Haith's scrappy UM team who doesn't always hustle. If Frisby, a 6-8, 235-pound forward, were saving his energy for the offensive end, it might be understandable. He possesses a decent 15-foot jumper, and he even has made three of his seven three-point attempts this season. He can be effective with his back to the basket. But he generally isn't aggressive on offense, and it's a shame because he's the ingredient who could make the 2004-05 Hurricanes more of an NCAA Tournament threat. If he could contribute double-figure scoring in Miami's ACC games, the team might be looking at a .500 season in conference play. During his first year at Miami, after transferring from Fresno City College in California, Frisby was the sixth man on UM's last NCAA Tournament team. That was the 2001-02 squad, which lost in the first round of March Madness. But after redshirting in 2002-03 because of a broken foot suffered during preseason practice, Frisby has had off-the-court issues derail his productivity. Last year Frisby served an eight-game suspension for violating an undisclosed NCAA rule, as Miami got off to a rocky start in Big East play. He ended up averaging 6.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. This season he started out the year suspended, after violating an undisclosed team rule. When he eventually got onto the court he was a force, averaging 17 points in his first two games while coming off the bench. However, his productivity since has fizzled, despite his presence in the starting lineup. Haith inserted him into UM's opening five because the Hurricanes needed a scoring presence in the post, and Frisby is the team's most athletic big man with the most polished post game. But for one reason or another, Frisby's inconsistency has continued. "His assertiveness is the real issue," Haith said. "That aggressiveness is what we've got to have as we progress into the league. He's playing a lot better, but this team needs him to be a double-figure scorer and play an assertive role, and he has to be more consistent with that." Haith has seen growth from Frisby in spurts this season. The senior had a career-high 13 rebounds in UM's loss to Georgia Tech. He also has contributed 13 or more points five times this season. If Frisby is able to pull it all together by the end of the season accepting his role, being aggressive, offering consistent production one of UM's most trying careers still could end on a positive note. "Who would have guessed you would go to one school, thinking you'll be in one league (the Big East) with one coach (Clark), and you wind up with a different coach in an entirely different league," said Frisby, a native New Yorker who played on the same New York Gauchos AAU team that featured well-known guards Omar Cook and Andre Barrett. "I've had to adjust to all that, and now I've just got to make the best of my final opportunities." Versatile Nelson Bolsters Devils DURHAM Duke forward Shavlik Randolph returned to practice in mid-January after a bout with mononucleosis and was expected to play likely briefly when the Blue Devils took a road trip to Miami and Florida State. Until he's back in full-time action, however, Duke often will play with center Shelden Williams and four guards, none of whom is legitimately taller than 6-3. That means Duke's power forward, playing the low post along with ACC rebounding leader Williams, often has been freshman guard DeMarcus Nelson. Listed at 6-3, the rookie from California probably is only 6-2, but it hasn't made any difference. Even with a healthy Randolph at 6-10, Nelson is Duke's second-best retriever on the boards. Nelson's first four games with the Blue Devils were not special, perhaps because he was playing with a wrap on the thumb of his right hand after tearing a ligament in the Blue-White game. Now that he's recovered, and averaging nearly 23 minutes with Randolph mostly on the sidelines, Nelson has demonstrated that he's not overwhelmed by a big man. In Duke's most significant victory, the comeback against Oklahoma in Madison Square Garden, Nelson played most of the second half for the foul-plagued Randolph, who two days later was diagnosed with mono. Nelson's task was to guard 6-9 forward Taj Gray, one of the Sooners' top scorers and a guy who recently dominated Connecticut. Nelson won that battle. He wasn't overwhelmed by the task, partly because in high school he played the post and often had to guard the opponent's center. In fact, in summer competition, he often guarded Andrew Brackman and Cedric Simmons, a pair of current 6-10 N.C. State freshmen. Nelson has long arms his reach is 79 inches and he's especially strong. In Duke's preseason weight test, he bench-pressed 225 pounds 12 consecutive times. That was bettered by only Williams (16 times) and the now-injured Reggie Love (14), an amazing two-sport athlete who had just come from a tryout with the NFL's Green Bay Packers. Randolph also benched 225 pounds once. "(Nelson is) really, really strong," Duke senior Daniel Ewing said. "And he's not the least bit intimidated." Nelson got a lot of attention as a prep star when he became the all-time career scoring leader in California, which has more high schools than any other state. But more stunning was the fact that he also became the state's third-leading rebounder in history. Nelson twice has had nine rebounds in a game for Duke, and he averaged 5.3 through the first 12 games of the season. He also made big shots against Clemson and Princeton, including a huge three-pointer, and ranked as the Blue Devils' fourth-leading scorer in mid-January behind the big three of J.J. Redick, Daniel Ewing and Williams. Against Temple, Nelson, who still comes off the bench, as junior forward Lee Melchionni has been starting, had eight points and five rebounds in the first half. But Nelson also had three careless turnovers, and when he had a fourth early in the second half, coach Mike Krzyzewski sat him for the remainder of the game. "DeMarcus is going to be a terrific player for us," Krzyzewski said. "He made big plays against Clemson and Princeton. I didn't think he played as well against Temple." Nelson still is getting used to the college game, which is to be expected, and he's had to get used to post play with Randolph on the sidelines. With Randolph recovering, Nelson may get slightly fewer minutes, but he'll also be available to play inside or out. For the unbalanced Blue Devils, that's a tremendous plus. Love, out until mid-February with a broken foot, had been the original frontcourt replacement. Nelson has shown he can play there if necessary, although he's especially dangerous on the perimeter. He can drive, and he gets fouled a lot. His free throw percentage is low (55.1), but it's slowly creeping up now that his hand has healed. He'll still play like a typical rookie (see Temple) at times, but he's shown enough that the Duke staff will have no concerns about using him regularly down the stretch. The scoring about a 10-point average since the opening four-game struggle is a given. The rebounding is all about wanting. "I've always gone after the basketball," Nelson said. "If the ball comes off the board, I want it." Tigers Need Consistent Hamilton CLEMSON His team was down six points at Duke with less than a minute remaining, and Clemson point guard Vernon Hamilton made a deft steal to prolong the hope of a major upset. Three seconds later he committed a turnover by traveling, and the Tigers' chances were all but squandered. The sequence illustrated Hamilton's ability to play solid defense and his inability to protect the basketball. It was probably a fair representation of his career to date at Clemson. "I'm still trying to get my role together," he said in mid-January. Hamilton, a sophomore from Richmond, Va., is not as gifted as most other point guards in the ACC. His struggles running the Tigers' half-court sets will never make observers mistake him for Wake Forest's Chris Paul or North Carolina's Raymond Felton. But Hamilton's quickness in transition, coupled with his intensity on the defensive end of the floor, is beneficial to a Clemson team that has adopted a more up-tempo style. If he learns to keep his composure while distributing the ball better, the Tigers could have an opportunity to climb from its long-held place in the ACC cellar. "We want him to be more of a guy who runs the team," second-year Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. Hamilton admits that running the team has been difficult, especially with the addition of four freshmen who play significant minutes. He has shared time at the point with Cliff Hammonds, a rookie whose natural position is shooting guard. Hamilton also is becoming acclimated with swingman Cheyenne Moore, who has struggled with his shot. "I'm still getting a feel for where they like the ball and where they can score, how to put them in better scoring positions," Hamilton said. "I'm still trying to understand that completely, still trying to get to know more players and get the ball inside." Hamilton seems right at home when Clemson is pressing and running. He amassed 32 steals in the Tigers' 12 games before conference play, and he made creative passes to help others finish off breaks at the other end. But Hamilton's deficiencies became more apparent when Clemson began facing ACC teams that forced the Tigers to slow the tempo. Hamilton has tried to force the issue himself on several occasions, driving to the basket and throwing up awkward shots instead of looking to pass. Shooting woes by Hammonds, Moore and junior guard Shawan Robinson haven't helped free up passing lanes inside, but Purnell said he is looking for Hamilton to become a better passer. "There's no question about it, that we want him to be more of a set-up guy and be more of a distributor," Purnell said. "Then, as a result of getting other people more involved, and as a result of his athleticism and kind of scoring off that, get some layups and a few free throws. ... Vernon has had two- or three-game stretches when he's played well, but he hasn't been consistent for us, and Shawan has been up and down. When your guard play is spotty, it certainly affects your offensive execution." As a freshman last season, Hamilton had some encouraging moments while starting the first 16 games. He put together perhaps the best effort of his career in a win over Florida State, handing out seven assists and making five steals while committing just one turnover. Then things soured. Hamilton had no assists and 11 turnovers in his next two games, at N.C. State and Virginia, leading Purnell to replace him in the starting lineup with Robinson for 11 of the Tigers' final 12 games. Incoming freshman Troy Mathis was considered capable of unseating Hamilton this year, before Mathis received a season-long suspension for his role in an on-campus brawl in September. Hamilton said he's confident he still can become the point guard Purnell wants him to be. "I think I've done good," Hamilton said, "but I know I can do better."
Larry Williams, Charleston (S.C.) Post & Courier
Cavs, Forbes Pursuing Potential CHARLOTTESVILLE If it's scoring that Virginia wants from its bench, the Cavaliers couldn't ask for much more than they are getting from sixth man Gary Forbes, who scored in double figures for four straight games in mid-January. That doesn't mean Forbes has reached his full potential. Otherwise, he would be starting for a Virginia team that dug itself a deep hole in early January by losing its first three ACC games, two of them at home, one to projected bottom-feeder Miami. Actually, Forbes did start one game, a Dec. 23 meeting with Loyola Marymount, but he didn't exactly make a strong impression. His missed all four of his attempts from the field, including a trio of three-pointers. He was replacing injured forward Jason Clark in that game, but he most likely would have started the Cavaliers' next contest, Jan. 2 against Wake Forest, if not for an unspecified disciplinary matter. Freshman forward Adrian Joseph started in place of an injured Devin Smith versus the Demon Deacons, then remained in the starting lineup for four games. Discipline hasn't been a problem for Forbes, at least off-court discipline. He could stand to be a little more disciplined on the court, both in his shot selection and his defensive intensity. At times, Forbes has embraced the role of defensive stopper, and he was instrumental in forcing a key turnover late in an 89-87 victory over Auburn early this season. On the other hand, Miami's ultra-quick guards repeatedly broke Forbes (and other UVa defenders) in a crushing 91-80 defeat of the Cavaliers in Charlottesville. In that same game, Forbes missed a foul-line jumper when Smith was calling for the ball on the wing. A Smith three-pointer at that stage would have given the Cavs the lead in a game they were trailing 66-64. Forbes doesn't routinely demonstrate bad shot selection, at least in comparison to post players Elton Brown and Donte Minter. His problem is, he's just not a good shooter. Or, rather, he's a streaky shooter. During a five-game span in which he was three-for-14 on three-pointers, Forbes made both long-range attempts against Wake Forest but just one of 12 against the other four opponents. Moreover, Forbes missed all four of his free throw attempts against Western Kentucky, which was one reason the Cavaliers needed to go into double overtime before subduing the Hilltoppers 80-79. In the next game, he converted just one of four attempts from the line in a 92-69 loss at Georgia Tech. Forbes, a 6-6, 210-pound swingman, signed with Virginia in the fall of 2002, picking the Cavaliers over Georgia Tech before his senior year at Benjamin Banneker High School in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was named the Brooklyn player of the year by Newsday magazine, and his skills package was evident from the moment he arrived in Charlottesville. Forbes is quick, handles the ball well and can jump, although he rebounded better in 2003-04 than he has this year. He has an array of moves around the basket and can score points in bunches, which is why he frequently is in the game when UVa is behind. At times, he has good form on his three-pointers, and he opened the year by making 10 of 12 free throws, but his form breaks down too often. If he could add some arc to his shot and maintain focus on defense, Forbes could be a pro. Until he does, however, the hope in his game will be matched by heartache, a theme the entire Virginia team has been familiar with so far this season. Pack: Bennerman One Of Many RALEIGH Nobody needs an X factor to emerge in a positive way more than N.C. State. Between injuries, illness and just plain inconsistency, the Wolfpack is a team still searching for its true identity, still hoping it will hit on the right chemistry before it's too late. The problem is, State probably has more candidates for the job than anyone in the ACC. Senior forward Levi Watkins has done nothing all year. Senior center Jordan Collins has almost disappeared since State stopped playing creampuffs. Freshman big man Cedric Simmons is talented but has been mostly overwhelmed so far. Junior point guard Tony Bethel has been sick for weeks, and nobody is sure when he'll be back at full speed. It would be tempting to designate either junior forward Ilian Evtimov or sophomore guard Engin Atsur as the guy State most needs to step up, because both struggled early and both are vital to the Wolfpack's success. But Evtimov recently has shown signs of getting it back together after two offseason knee surgeries, and Atsur finally found his jumper in early January and is playing with some assertiveness again. That leaves among others, of course junior swingman Cameron Bennerman. Even if senior guard Julius Hodge starts playing like the ACC player of the year again, and Evtimov and Atsur continue to come along, and freshman forward Andrew Brackman continues to improve, State is going to need one more guy who can step up on a fairly consistent basis. Bennerman seemed to be in a nice groove as the first guard off the bench early in the season, coming in as an instant-offense kind of guy and sparking the team. He averaged 10.3 points (second only to Hodge) in the first 15 games, playing an average of 23.3 minutes, and had several big games: 24 against Columbia, 20 against Campbell, 16 against Washington, 20 against Duke. He's also a high-energy guy who has a knack for making things happen. "Every game is different," Bennerman said. "Some games I have to shoot threes, some games I have to rebound, or whatever. I just want to put forth as much effort as I can, win some games, and take advantage of every opportunity I get." Bennerman complained after the Wolfpack's loss at Miami that his role was being changed, that coach Herb Sendek wanted him to be more of a defensive-minded player. That was Bennerman's main role during his first two seasons in Raleigh, when he averaged 2.3 and 3.4 points per game, respectively. But one game later, against the Blue Devils in Raleigh, he was the team's most productive offensive player by a large margin. Bennerman's head clearly wasn't in the loss to Miami, and that helped explain but certainly didn't excuse why his last-second three-pointer missed horribly. With plenty of time to catch and shoot the potential game-winner against the Hurricanes, he quickly threw the ball toward the basket (anticipating the buzzer) rather than recognizing the situation and collecting himself for his usual stroke. Everyone has been frustrated with State's recent play, and make no mistake: Sendek needs to redefine some roles and make some personnel changes. But Bennerman is a great example of how fragile things are right now. If he continues to work through his struggles successfully in whatever role he still can have a huge impact. Or, if he goes downhill the rest of the way, State will be in even deeper trouble. One of the curious things about Bennerman's situation is how he suddenly finds himself in this position. He does need to improve his defense. Everybody does. And maybe he has gotten a little trigger-happy or out of control every now and then. But State has bigger problems elsewhere to deal with, and when Bennerman, Atsur or others heat up from outside, it overcomes a lot of other players' deficiencies. Of course, Bethel could wind up as the X factor for this team instead. If he ever comes back and gets comfortable again, he definitely would improve the defense and chemistry significantly, and he also has had nights when he has shot well. One has to believe he'll be a better offensive player at some point, once he gets his confidence. But there are no guarantees with Bethel. That provides even more reason to look at Bennerman, the ultimate X factor on a completely unpredictable team. FSU Excited About Thornton TALLAHASSEE With the length and quickness to match up with small forwards and shooting guards, and the explosive leaping ability to create problems on the inside, Florida State's Al Thornton can be maddeningly effective on both ends of the floor. If the Seminoles are going to pull themselves up, after underachieving in the non-conference portion of the season, Thornton's lithe frame is going to have to carry its share of the responsibility. Providing energy off the bench, he is in the process of blossoming from role player to key contributor. A sophomore who benefited from a "grayshirt" season after arriving at FSU in January 2003, Thornton is a late bloomer from Perry, Ga., who remains a work in progress. While his offensive skills need polishing, particularly on the perimeter where coach Leonard Hamilton figures he eventually will find a home, Thornton already has served notice that defenses must account for his whereabouts. Just ask Maryland. After scoring 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 13 minutes versus South Alabama, Thornton turned in his best effort in a 90-88 overtime road loss against the Terrapins. Not only did he score 16 points and grab a career-high 13 rebounds (seven offensive), his quickness around the basket had the entire Maryland frontcourt in foul trouble. A tender ankle kept Thornton on the bench for FSU's next two games, but he bounced back with a repeat performance, scoring 17 points and grabbing nine rebounds in 22 minutes as the Seminoles routed Florida 82-69. Thornton's continued development has not surprised Hamilton. "There were times in the preseason," Hamilton said, "where we thought Al Thornton was the best player on the floor." Quiet and reserved off the court with braces and a shy smile, he still looks like a freshman at times Thornton comes to life immediately after checking into the game. His numbers bear that out. Despite averaging just 18 minutes, his 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds a game rank third on the team. He is particularly effective in turning offensive rebounds he leads the team with 27 into points. Many are of the thundering dunk variety, which can energize the team. "Our coaches have been stressing easy putbacks are easy points," said Thornton, well aware that the Seminoles remain an offensively challenged team. Thornton still has areas he needs to improve. Consistency is lacking, and his 45.6 free throw percentage makes him a liability in late-game situations. Improved ball-handling on the perimeter will be critical to his development as a wing player. Effort, however, is not a problem. Thornton finds motivation in many ways, as he did against the Gators. His performance came on the heels of a lackluster showing in a 67-50 loss at LSU three days earlier. "It was a big game for me personally, because the last game (LSU) I played like crap," Thornton said, after his inside dominance sent Florida Naismith Award candidate David Lee to the bench as a second-half spectator. Although Thornton occasionally loses his man while defending, his defense has come a long way in a short time. Continued improvement could make him FSU's equivalent to Wake Forest's Jamaal Levy. Thornton's versatility makes him an ideal match for potentially dangerous ACC forwards and swingmen such as Jawad Williams, Julius Hodge, Isma'il Muhammad, Ikene Ibekwe, Vytas Danelius and Levy, and a fixture in FSU's long-range plans. Hokies' Hopes Tied To Gordon BLACKSBURG Back in October, Virginia Tech guard Jamon Gordon had a lot to look forward to heading into the 2004-05 season. By mid-January, he still was trying to fulfill some of his own lofty expectations. Gordon, a 6-3, 190-pound sophomore, said he anticipated surprising some ACC teams and proving that he and backcourtmate Zabian Dowdell belonged among the conference's elite. Gordon said he wanted to prove to guys such as Wake Forest guard Justin Gray, an acquaintance from various offseason events, that Tech's backcourt shouldn't be overlooked. Through mid-January, it hadn't been the kind of season Tech or Gordon hoped to have. Then again, it wasn't Gordon's fault. Many of the expectations he had for this year were unofficially set by Tech coach Seth Greenberg. Gordon just bought into them, without questioning his coach's dream. "He's got a toughness about him," Greenberg said. "We're asking him to do an awful lot. He defends. He's got quick hands. He's got to be a little more disciplined on the defensive end. Sometimes I think he's feast or famine, but he pushes the ball with great energy." When asked before the season which player would be a surprise to most Tech basketball observers in 2004-05, Greenberg chose Gordon. The coach said he believed Gordon would dramatically improve his shooting (36.5 percent last season) and assume more of a leadership role. Gordon's accuracy has gotten better, but it hasn't been the drastic improvement Greenberg anticipated. Through Tech's first 13 games, Gordon shot 39 percent, including just 22 percent from behind the three-point line. His scoring average of 10 points per game was fourth-best on the team. Gordon's strong suit has been on the defensive end. He averaged an ACC-high three steals per contest in Tech's first 13 games. Greenberg's "feast or famine" comment referred to Gordon's penchant for sometimes stepping into passing lanes a second too early, causing Tech to have to scramble to cover an open man. But the coach appreciates Gordon's aggressiveness. "I think as time goes on, he'll be a player who develops into one of the better guards in this league," Greenberg said. "He's got to play against some of the better guards in this league and prove himself." Impeding the progress of opposing guards always has been one of Gordon's fortes. He led the Big East last season with 66 steals as a freshman. He has some interesting tests on the horizon against some of the ACC's other top thieves, including Duke's Daniel Ewing, Wake Forest's Chris Paul and Maryland's John Gilchrist. There's also a fearlessness to Gordon's game that a coach can only admire. Gordon was Tech's top rebounder (5.4 per game) and one of the leading guards in the ACC in that category through 13 games. While Gordon still must make improvements shooting the ball, he also needs to hone his decision-making skills. One of the marks of a quality guard is an assist-to-turnover ratio of at least two-to-one. Gordon led Tech in assists (60) through 13 games, but he also led the team in turnovers (34). Greenberg has all but begged for a leader to step forward on his young team. He has hinted more than once that Gordon could be that kind of player. If Tech is going to shock one of the heavyweights in the ACC this season, Gordon will have to step up.