January 5, 2004
COLLEGE PARK A major concern for Maryland heading into the ACC portion of
the campaign is the lack of a reliable bench.
Coach Gary Williams basically is employing a seven-man rotation, with freshmen
D.J. Strawberry and Ekene Ibekwe the only reserves seeing significant action.
Four of the Terps' five starters are averaging at least 31 minutes per game,
numbers that go up dramatically against top-notch competition.
For instance, point guard John Gilchrist played 39 of 40 minutes against Florida
State, while center Jamar Smith and forward Nik Caner-Medley got only four minutes
of rest in that game. Caner-Medley played a whopping 43 minutes in the overtime
affair with Florida, while Chris McCray and Smith went for 39 and 38 minutes
Compounding the problem is the fact that these are players not used to going
so long in collegiate games. Caner-Medley was a part-time starter who averaged
16 minutes a year ago. Smith, Gilchrist and forward Travis Garrison were reserves
who saw 12-14 minutes per game. McCray was a benchwarmer who didn't appear at
all in seven contests.
Williams knows he cannot continue to overwork this bunch of sophomores (Smith
is a second-year junior college tranfer) and is looking for answers from an
even more youthful bench. Strawberry and Ibekwe have proven valuable because
they play multiple positions. Ibekwe, the only frontcourt reserve at times,
has worked at the three, four and five spots. Strawberry already was splitting
time at wing guard and small forward when the midseason transfer of Andre Collins
forced him to become the backup point guard.
Williams would like to find one or two more players to work into the mix,
with freshman center Will Bowers and freshman guard Mike Jones the most likely
candidates. Junior swingman Mike Grinnon just isn't an ACC-caliber player, while
massive freshman center Hassan Fofana is just too raw skill-wise to help at
Jones has been the biggest mystery. The 6-5, 196-pounder clearly has the strength,
skill and athleticism to make an impact, but he didn't play against either Wisconsin
or Florida and got in for just two minutes or less in three other games against
high-level opponents. That was a stunning development to many fans, who figured
the McDonald's All-American would be good enough to step right in and start.
Jones is fine physically, but he has struggled to pick up the nuances of Maryland's
flex offense, which requires lots of cutting, picking and movement. His defense
also has been lacking, thanks to poor technique and an inadequate understanding
of how much effort is required. A surprisingly shy youngster from Dorchester,
Mass., Jones often has appeared confused and tentative on the court. Williams
said the prized recruit is thinking too much, which detracts from his natural
I'm not used to the large crowds, and I tend to get nervous. Plus, things
are just a lot quicker than they were in high school, said Jones, a terrific
leaper with explosive quickness. The more I play, the more comfortable I'll
get out there. Coach is still feeling things out. Everything starts in practice.
Jones does possess a feathery jumper and likely will be a solid three-point
threat down the road. However, he has struggled shooting the ball so far, hitting
just 12 of 29 attempts from the field.
Mike used to take about five jumpers to get ready for practice. He's had
to learn there is more preparation involved, Williams said. Mike knows the
deal. He's been real positive. He knows he can become a good college player.
Bowers also needs a lot more developing, especially in the strength department.
However, the seven-footer is the best option to provide depth up front, because
he's a smart kid who understands the game and has enough skill to be more than
a void offensively.
Bowers has good hands and is an above-average passer for a big man. He also
has nice touch on a spot-up jumper out to about 15 feet. The 245-pounder has
the bulk to play solid post defense, but he has allowed himself to get pushed
around too much. He has pulled down just 10 rebounds in 50 minutes of action
and has displayed a tendency to foul too often underneath.
Will's had his moments. He's done some good things and hasn't made a whole
lot of mistakes, Williams said. Will needs to work on his strength and stamina,
but he has a big body and gives us a defensive presence in the post. What I
like about Will is that he hasn't played scared or intimidated. He's been ready
to go whenever we have needed him.
A lack of offensive production from the reserves has put additional pressure
on the starters. Strawberry has shown an ability to score in transition but
is not much of a threat in the halfcourt set. Most of Ibekwe's points so far
have come off dunks and put-backs. Jones is the one player who could provide
some punch if used more often. He can make open jumpers and has shown an ability
to be a slasher who can get into the lane or to the basket.
Florida State's bench outscored Maryland's 35-13, and that could become a
trend during ACC play, especially if Williams remains uncomfortable using Jones
I think we're going to need a little more depth coming into ACC play. There's
not going to be any more easy teams to play, Smith said. We're going to need
more people to give us minutes.
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