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MARYLAND SEASON PREVIEW

 

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by Brett Farrenkopf

 

With all the youth Gary Williams will be working with, he must be a little concerned about the 2003-04 season.

 

Coming into the season Williams will have only four upperclassmen- Jamar Smith, Andre Collins, Mike Grinnon, and Darien Henry.  Andre Collins is an explosive guard who will be battling for a job next to McDonald’s All-American Mike Jones. But Henry is a walk-on and Grinnon played limited minutes in his first two season.  Besides that Williams has a team of inexperienced but talented freshmen and sophomores.

 

The sophomore class is led by point guard John Gilchrist who is an offensive spark and an absolute glove on the defensive side of the ball. Last year, Gilchrist was the perfect back-up to Steve Blake. He was able to make the pace of the game a little quicker, and also added valuable points and assists. He also looks to be a great leader, both on and off the court, with his tough demeanor, great attitude and 100% effort on every possession.

 

The most experienced sophomore from last year is Nik Caner-Medley. He started 18 games as a true freshman and was the first true freshmen to start a game under Gary Williams since Steve Blake was a freshman in 1999-00. Caner-Medley could be an important producer for the Terrapins playing small forward. He slashes to the hoop and next to John Gilchrist is one of the most aggressive players on the team. For his 6-8, 233 lb. frame he has an excellent stroke from long range, and he can confuse defenders with his great ball handling skills as a lefty.

 

The Terrapins need either Caner Medley or Gilchrist to have a break-out season and be a major leader on the team.

 

The other two sophomores on the team this year are guard Chris McCray and forward Travis Garrison. McCray is an athletic and quick shooting guard who has long range and should see some significant playing time now with Drew Nicholas graduating. Over the off-season McCray also added some weight to move to 180 lb. while still being 6-5. This will allow him to drive to the lane more often and get to the charity stripe. Garrison on the other hand is a strong and big power forward who played 30 games last year and starting in six of them. His main contributions will come on the defensive end where he had 25 blocks last year and really was a force on the boards. He has a rather soft-shot and last year had an above average hook shot when posting up. He still will have to develop more moves on the offensive end though if he wants to be a top power forward in the ACC.

 

William’s five freshmen should all play this season and a couple will play significant minutes. The class is led by McDonald’s All-American and third team All-America selection by Parade Magazine Mike Jones. Jones has incredible range, athleticism, and a great finish at the hoop. Many high-school scouts rated him second behind only LeBron James as a shooting guard. Probably his best talent though is his aggressive and tenacious defense. Coming out of Thayer Academy he averaged 24.8 points per game, 14.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.3 steals in his final season. Jones looks to play significant minutes and maybe even start out the season as a starter.

           

The other top recruit is power forward Ekene Ibekwe, a second team All-America selection by Parade Magazine and consensus Top 40 prospect. For his size Ibekwe is a superb outside shooter and very quick in the post. At Carson High School in California he averaged 19.9 points per game, 14.4 rebounds, 4.4 blocks, and nearly four steals. Williams will have to bring Ibekwe off the bench though with Smith and Garrison most likely starting. Ibekwe has an abundance of potential though and could develop into a great forward.

 

The other three recruits are D.J. Strawberry, Will Bowers and Hassan Fofana. Bowers and Fofana are both big men looking to back up Garrison and Smith in the post. Bowers is 7-1 and very physical down on the post. He has a lot of physical tools and should be able to be formidable as a center in the ACC where center is a rather weak position. Fofana is best described as Lonny Baxter. Fofana is a 6-10, 290 lb. power forward who is very raw but can provide a very physical and powerful presence in the paint. Fofana also has extreme quickness and beautiful footwork in the post, but needs to develop his shot to make defenders guard him face to face. Finally Strawberry is a great playmaker on the offensive side and a tough and hard-worker on the defensive side. He is a very versatile player who can play the point, shooting guard or small forward. Coming from Mater Dei Strawberry was able to play versus the best teams in the country. His best performance perhaps came against LeBron James in which he held James to 33% field-goal shooting, including an 0-for-8 3-point shooting performance. He also showed his hard nosed defense by making James commit seven turnovers.

 

Maryland fans and Gary Williams are expecting a lot from their freshmen class, and want to prove they can compete on a national scale even though they are not ranked in the AP Top 25.

 

Williams and the rest of the coaching staff are still contemplating on whether to employ a full-court press style of defense for 40 minutes. Perhaps like Arkansas’s and Norm Richardson’s “40 Minutes of Hell” in the early 90’s. William’s employed this defense when he coached at Boston College and Ohio State in the 80’s, but he has felt he never really has had the right personnel to do this at Maryland. He believes this year though that his team is quick enough, and with their youth and inexperience they will need to create easy baskets by getting turnovers all over the court.

 

William’s team has something to prove and must prove it versus a moderately tough non-conference schedule. Wisconsin and Pepperdine both come to the Comcast Center in the first few weeks of December. The Terrapins also have to complete their home and home billing with Florida on Dec 10. Their toughest test though will come against Gonzaga in the opening game of the BB&T Classic at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C. Then for the last time the Terrapins will have to go through the brutal ACC schedule by playing every team once at home and once on the road.

 

The year will be tough for the Terrapins and fans will most likely go through a roller coaster ride of a season, but signs of brilliance should be shown from the team at times, and fans only have to look a year or two away from another run at the National Championship. As for this year expect the Terrapins to compete in the top four of the ACC and continue their consecutive streak of 10 appearances in the Big Dance. Past that they will have to show they have matured on the court and learned to play as a team before getting to the Final Four.

 

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