UMD season looks more promising than last year
After a disappointing season with a young and inexperienced team, the University of Maryland (UMD) men's basketball team has trained hard to have a successful season. The face of UMD has completely changed since its prime, as the team had lost all but one, Mike Grinnon, of its championship team from 2002. Through the last few years, they have learned to adjust to a new independence from the reliance on a star player to lead the way. Last season, the fledgling basketball team had to learn how to grow up and fly through another phenomenal basketball season.
But Maryland could not complete an exceptional season. Sophomore guard D.J. Strawberry tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and was sidelined for the greater part of the season. Tension flared between starting point guard John Gilchrist and Gary Williams, the head coach. With a complete lack of consistency, UMD beat Duke, the 2005 ACC Champion, and lost to Clemson, a team not even ranked. And for the first time in 15 years, the UMD men's basketball team was not invited to the NCAA Division I Tournament. Instead, the team participated in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), where it had a good showing but lost in the semifinals.
In its season opener on Friday, UMD beat Farleigh Dickinson with an outstanding 115-85 score. Maryland shot 81 percent from the line, and six Terps scored in double digits with Mike Jones leading all with 22. In addition, UMD stole the ball 11 times Friday night, already tying last year when they attained double digit thefts only once in the first ten games. Maryland has won every game against Farleigh Dickinson, however, so banking on the first game's stats is a little unreliable.
Maryland has been preparing for a tougher season this year, for they play in the most competitive league of the NCAA. They will be more geared up at the start of the season this year, with the Maui Invitational, ACC-Big Ten Challenge and BB&T Classic Tournament in the next few weeks. From building endurance to playing with consistency, the UMD men's basketball team is more ready and mature to take on this upcoming season.
UMD has ten returning players, four of whom are seniors. The four seniors should provide leadership as opposed to last year, when the team had only two seniors, who did not log many minutes.
The Terrapins mostly need to work towards consistency and better cohesiveness as a new point guard steps up to replace the void left by Gilchrist.
Point guard position:
Starting point guard John Gilchrist is not returning this year, so the Terps will have to settle the point guard position among a few candidates. Gilchrist was injured during the postseason, so Ledbetter stepped up and led Maryland to a 3-1 record during the NIT. Ledbetter is most likely to be starting point guard, although shooting guard Chris McCray and D.J. Strawberry are candidates.
Probable Starting Line-up:
Senior Sterling Ledbetter, point guard; senior Chris McCray, shooting guard; junior Ekene Ibekwe, center; senior Travis Garrison, power forward; senior Nik Caner-Medley, small forward.
Junior center Will Bowers excited many Maryland fans when he joined the Maryland basketball team his freshman year. Standing as a seven-footer, the man has the physical build of a great post player. Last year, he started stepping into the role of the big man on court, but certainly still had to hone his skills. This year seems more promising for Bowers; he has dropped weight last year and attended a camp over the summer to add skills to his physical prowess.
This is Parrish Brown's first year on the basketball team. He transferred from Kennedy King Community College, where he was team captain and starting guard. He will be competing for a point guard position, averaging 22 points, five assists, and five rebounds the past two years at Kennedy King.
Captain Nik Caner-Medley has been a solid starter since his freshman year. A candidate for All-America and All ACC-honors, Caner-Medley is the Terrapin's top returning scorer. Caner-Medley still needs to work on his consistency because he is very streaky. Often he can dominate a game with his shot and 6' 8" frame, but every once in a while he has his off nights when he takes and misses too many shots. There is a sense of urgency for Caner-Medley because this is his last season at Maryland and he needs this one to make an impression on professional scouts.
A Terrapin walk-on last year, Gini Chukura gives the team more depth at shooting guard or small forward. Chukura brings energy along with talent to the team. Last year, Chukura did not get much playing time but he will probably be rotated into more schemes this season.
Travis Garrison is a powerful post player who can post up, rebound, and defend in the interior. He is Maryland's top rebounder and is one of ACC's top shotblockers. Garrison needs to work on consistency and getting big inside the paint, but is attached to mid-range jumpers.
James Gist is a quick forward who is a good shotblocker. He needs more experience to become a developed player and step up to cover Maryland's dilemma in the paint. Gist is a power player who definitely can be Maryland's big man inside after some seasoning.
Ekene Ibekwe looks like a graceful swan at times on the basketball court. He has been working on developing a more conventional style of shooting and needs to work on more consistency to be a powerful force on the court. Maryland needs a dominant inside like it had with former big men Lonny Baxter or Chris Wilcox, and hopefully Ibekwe, primarily known as a defensive threat, can develop on the offensive side as well.
Jones was outstanding in the ACC opener against Farleigh-Dickinson, leading the top-scorers with 22 points off the bench. Jones has a very nice stroke, shooting 53.7 percent from the field in the NIT tournament, and has been a solid contributor in the last few seasons. He was Maryland's best recruit in 2003, when he was ranked as one of the best high school shooting guards in the country. Maryland will need him to continue to improve his ball handling and defense so they can use him more.
Senior guard Sterling Ledbetter played more during the post-season NIT championships, starting as a point guard and leading the team to a 3-1 record. Last year he stepped up admirably to fill Gilchrist's vacant position as starting point guard, and will probably continue as a starter. Ledbetter showed an ability to distribute the ball well in the NIT tournament but has big shoes to fill.
Selected as ACC's most underrated player by the Sporting News in 2005, Chris McCray has contributed a lot to the team the past three years that he has been on the team. He had a .903 free throw rate last year, the second-best from the line in the ACC. McCray is one of Maryland's most versatile players, a shooting guard with proficient ball-handling and experience at the point guard position, as well as capability to defend against guards and forwards. McCray needs to take over the game the way that Juan Dixon did, and finally, as a senior it is his turn to lead the team to a better season.
At his high school, Bishop O'Connell, freshman forward Dave Neal averaged 20.2 points per game and 13.3 rebounds as a senior. He led O'Connell to a 31-3 record and was the MVP of the Virginia state tournament his senior year. Williams will call upon Neal to use his 6' 7" and 245 pound frame to crash the glass for rebounds.
D.J. Strawberry tore his ACL and had to sit out for the final 18 games of the season. In his first year, he played point, shooting guard and small forward. He is one of the ACC's top stealers and is aggressive on the ball. Strawberry is an adept ball-handler and passer, and his high energy level is contagious. This season, he needs to work on his jump shot the most in order to become a versatile player.
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