March 14, 2005
COLLEGE PARK If this were a professional basketball team, the coach would clean house and bring in a whole new batch of players.
Of course, that practice doesn't fly in the fishbowl that is the ACC. As a result, Maryland coach Gary Williams is pretty much stuck with his players for another year.
The Terrapins may have as many as 10 returnees in 2005-06, and they'll welcome at least one recruit (6-7 forward Shane Clark). Seldom-used forward Mike Grinnon was the only scholarship senior on this year's team.
However, there is no guarantee that Maryland will look the same next season. There are several personnel issues that must be addressed in the coming months.
Obviously, the biggest question is whether or not junior point guard John Gilchrist will declare for the 2005 NBA draft. By all accounts, Gilchrist had planned to make this his last season in College Park, and he reportedly already had decided on (but not yet signed with) an agent.
While those close to the situation still expect Gilchrist to leave early, there is now a possibility that he could return for his senior year. The 6-3 Virginia Beach native has seen his NBA stock drop dramatically, thanks to his erratic behavior and inconsistent play.
One NBA scout, interviewed late in the regular season at the Comcast Center, said Gilchrist has the talent to be a first-round pick, but that questions surrounding his leadership and attitude could drop him into the second round.
Gilchrist gave off mixed signals during the season, but he sounded contrite and open to a reconciliation with Williams following Maryland's first-round loss in the ACC Tournament. He admitted that a subpar campaign might force him to reconsider turning pro.
"It's definitely going to affect my decision. This year, I feel that in a lot of ways, I disappointed this team," Gilchrist said. "A lot of things that I've done came as a distraction, involving the media coverage about the rumors that got out. I really haven't thought about it (going pro) as much as it's been put out there. It's been a learning experience, and I feel like I have a lot of obligations due to this team."
There also has been talk of junior forward Nik Caner-Medley testing the NBA waters, as preposterous as that may sound. If the 6-8, 241-pound forward is a tweener at the collegiate level, what does that make him in the pros?
Caner-Medley does not have the quickness, ball-handling, shooting or defensive skills necessary to play small forward in the NBA. Someone qualified needs to give Caner-Medley an honest accounting of his abilities, because the Maine native may have an over-inflated opinion of himself.
Another rumor making the rounds at the MCI Center during the ACC Tournament was that sophomore forward Ekene Ibekwe is contemplating a transfer. Williams just might give the 6-9, 210-pound pogo stick a shove in that direction, since he was one of the biggest problems on this year's team.
It became quite clear this season that Ibekwe still has a lot to learn. He can be lazy, indifferent and somewhat arrogant at times, and that doesn't help. The California native often has annoyed the coaching staff with his penchant for jawing at opponents and showboating after most dunks and blocks. He is too often out of control, and he makes some absolutely absurd decisions in terms of shot selection.
Many Maryland fans feel that any departures from among Gilchrist, Caner-Medley and Ibekwe would be addition by subtraction, and there certainly is truth to the notion that the program would be better off without any me-first players.
Junior forward Travis Garrison is another player who frequently disappoints the coaching staff. Garrison is a good kid in terms of attitude, but he has not come close to living up to his status as a McDonald's All-American. He has completely disappeared from so many games over the last couple of seasons that it will be difficult for the team to rely heavily on the 6-8, 238-pounder going into next year.
The list of problems and question marks goes on and on. Sophomore guard Mike Jones was given more and more playing time as the season progressed, but he showed he still has a long, long way to go in order to develop into a complete player. Junior college transfer Sterling Ledbetter ran the point for significant stretches of games late in the season, but he made about as many negative plays as positive ones.
Bad Seeds From Recruiting Trail
So where do Maryland and Williams go from here? What's needed more than anything is a complete attitude adjustment and mental overhaul. That will be difficult to accomplish, since it's virtually impossible to change the innate personalities of certain players.
Indeed, Maryland's season of discontent may very well be a case of the Terps reaping what they sowed. In hindsight, the coaching staff made some questionable recruiting decisions that have come back to haunt them.
A national recruiting analyst who attended the ACC Tournament said Williams should not be surprised that Ibekwe is unpredictable, Gilchrist is mercurial and Jones is unpolished.
"Maryland knew what it was getting when they recruited these guys," the analyst said. "They knew John Gilchrist can be a head case and that Ekene Ibekwe can be a loose cannon. Players are what they are; they don't change all that much."
That means Williams must accept some of the blame for the makeup of this team. Maryland's late-season collapse was the result of having a roster filled with too many players who don't understand the true meaning of the words heart and effort.
Williams admits being baffled about why he was never able to get this team to play hard for 40 minutes. Many of the personality traits that have come to define Maryland as a program went out the window this season, a fact that was tough for Williams to stomach.
The Terrapins always have taken pride in playing suffocating, in-your-face defense. Under Williams, Maryland always has been known as a team filled with quick-handed defenders who could force a bunch of turnovers through full-court pressure and playing the passing lanes. That reputation took a major hit this season, as Maryland gave up 80 points or more in a whopping 13 games.
"Defense is 90 percent effort, 10 percent technique," Williams said. "This team just does not play good defense."
Maryland's season-long inability to defend the three-point shot or stop penetration were maddening. The Terps also allowed an unbelievable amount of offensive rebounds.
"My teams have always been known for playing hard, and that definitely has not always been the case this season," Williams said. "When we play with intensity, we can compete with any team in the country. But we have too many letdowns, both in games and in practices. As a program, we have always taken pride in doing the little things. We've gotten into some habits, in terms of playing defense and getting loose balls, that we're not happy about around here."
Even if everyone returns, Williams will have some difficult decisions to make. Simply put, Gilchrist, Caner-Medley and Ibekwe have to change or see their roles reduced. Many fans would like to see the Terps build around the players they perceive as being hard workers who are willing to listen to the coaching staff especially sophomore guard D.J. Strawberry, sophomore center Will Bowers, freshman forward James Gist and junior guard Chris McCray.
Speaking of McCray, he has been the one bright spot this season. The 6-5 swingman become more aggressive offensively and was the team's most reliable scorer down the stretch, averaging 22 points over the final four games. He deservedly was named to the ACC's all-defensive team, after consistently shutting down the opponent's top perimeter scoring threat, including Duke star J.J. Redick twice in Maryland victories.
Perhaps things might have been different this season if the rest of the Terps had followed the lead of McCray instead of Gilchrist.