Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Terp Nation #3 (McCray flunks out)

Terp Nation #3

Bad Grades and a Basketball Jones

Welcome to the third edition of the Terrapin Nation, where we dissect the McCray mess and officially welcome the era of Mike Jones as starting shooting guard, among other extremely important matters.

In my mind, the irony in Chris McCray flunking off the Maryland basketball team is that – on the court – he was Maryland’s smartest player. With the ball in his hands, McCray seemed to make the most good decisions, played within himself, and generally carried himself like a guy who knew exactly what to do, and did it.

That good judgment and aptitude did not, apparently, carry over to the classroom.

And that is a shame. It’s a shame for a lot of reasons, the most obvious being Maryland’s short-term future as a basketball team and McCray’s future in general. For him, as a fringe NBA prospect, it can’t help that he won’t play the second half of what was his senior and best season of basketball. For the team, losing McCray means losing Maryland’s steadiest player, top defender, leading scorer, best free throw shooter, and a calming presence on an often spastic team.

This one hurts.

I have no idea if McCray is a smart, capable kid who slacked off, or perhaps someone who was not cut out for college in the first place. He hung in there for seven semesters, so he can’t have been completely overmatched.

Who knows? I am honestly surprised that things like this don’t happen more often. Whether good students or poor, scholarship athletes at big-time Division I programs have to juggle the demands of playing and practicing, traveling and missing class, and living their collegiate lives in a manner that is so inconsistent with that of a typical college student, it’s a joke. Yes, they have tutors, scholarships, and perhaps, easy schedules. But for most guys who come to Maryland or a school like Maryland with a basketball scholarship and a starting role, what they really are studying to become, let’s not kid ourselves, is a professional basketball player.

“Chris, you have a game on national TV at Duke this week. And, oh yeah, a sociology test on Friday.”

What would you focus on?

Regardless, one thing is for sure, from a public relations perspective, this season is starting to smell rather foul for our fearless leader in the Comcast Center. In the last few weeks, one of Maryland’s players has been arrested for allegedly triple ass-grabbing a young woman and then following that romantic moment of courtship with a right cross to the choppers. Just before that bit of good news, the Terps served as sacrificial lambs at Duke for a nationally televised pounding so thorough in nature that Dick Vitale turned to filler material with 5 minutes left in the first half and basically stopped calling the game and started praising Duke, Magic Johnson, USA Basketball, and Jay Williams, before reminding all the viewers at home to live with passion and purpose. And, just when we thought it was safe to wear red again, came this week’s kick in the nuts, the announcement of Chris McCray’s inability to not fail most of his classes.

Is it safe to read the sports section?

Before we all turn into Carl from Columbia and rant on sports talk radio, let’s take these episodes one at a time and decide how bad these transgressions really are.

Let’s rank them 1 to 10, with 1 being tardiness to practice or a meeting; 3 is a “we forgot to show-up performance during the regular season;” 5 is any form of non-felony assault; 7 is accumulating $8,000 in unpaid parking tickets; and 500 million is when you are everyone’s favorite player of all time and celebrate your new NBA contract by snorting so much cocaine that your heart explodes. Sorry.

On this scale of bad and/or embarrassing behavior, I would say that if, in one season, a team accumulates more than 20 points, their coach might be Jerry Tarkanian, or performing a reasonable impersonation of Jerry Tarkanian.

The Garrison triple-ass-grab-slap combo (5)

If the allegations are true, I can forgive the ass grabbing. Who among us, as a college student, didn’t do something stupid after having a few extra drinks and trying a little too hard to pick up a girl? But if you punch that girl in the face after she tells you to get lost, there is a very high likelihood that you are an a**hole. To be continued.

The beat-down at Duke (4, it would be a 3, but it was Duke, and they pummeled our Turtles like so much Sun Belt roadkill)

When the team that is probably the best team in the country gets called out for not protecting its home court by the coach who is probably the best coach in the country, and you are that team’s next opponent at a time when you are playing just OK and they are clicking, you are going to lose that game. It was embarrassing, but it’s forgivable. Like Gary said, you just aren’t going to win every year at Duke. Fair enough, but it doesn’t mean you have to go down there and forget how to execute a bounce pass without completely freaking out. But, OK, it’s forgivable.

McCray (3)

Let’s just put it this way. It ain’t good.

So that gets Gary up to a 12 on this completely subjective and ridiculous scale. We can subtract a few points if the Terps beat Duke at home or turn in a winning record in the conference.

Let’s just move on and take a look at what the loss of McCray means to the 2005-2006 Maryland men’s basketball team.

You wanted Mike Jones? You got him.

Here we go. Since Mike “The Enigma” Jones showed up on the College Park campus three years ago with All-American credentials, a buttery jump shot, and altogether explosive talent, Terp fans have wanted Gary to just let him play. Stop pulling him every time he makes a mistake. Stop starting guys – like McCray and Strawberry – with perhaps less athletic ability but better fundamentals. You wanted it? You got it. As of this week, Mike Jones is Maryland’s starting two guard for the foreseeable future.

He is going to thrill and delight us with electric plays on both ends of the court, and he will also disappear for extended periods of time and make plenty of boneheaded mistakes.

Look no further than Jones’ last two games as an example. He carried Maryland offensively (at least in the first half) against Wake Forest, piling up points very quickly and dramatically, ending with 22 (only 59 less than Kobe the other night). Then against Virginia Tech, Jones scored 2 points in 20 largely invisible minutes. This will happen when you are a role player, but those days are over.

[MJ hairstyle update. Against Virginia Tech, Jones wore an Afro in a bun with some kind of a band to prop it up and keep it out of his face, in a manner reminiscent of Shirley from “What’s Happening.” Against Wake, he wore cornrows in a manner similar to Allen Iverson. You decide what works.]

Without a doubt, the loss of McCray also means we will see more of the duo of JuCo transfers with names that sound like, respectively, a Pearl Jam song and a the Star Search country music competition winner – Sterling Ledbetter and Parrish Brown. Both players have shown flashes that they can handle life in the ACC, now they’ll need to really step up in a meaningful and consistent way.

All in all, I don’t think it’s a complete disaster. We’ve all kinda wanted to see more of Jones anyway right? So now we’ll get to see him. Other players, like Ibekwe, Gist, Caner-Medley, Garrison and Strawberry now just have to step up and pick up the slack. Maryland has plenty of talent and now there is no one in Mike Jones’ way except Mike Jones. Let’s see if he can handle it.

A couple of one-sentence thoughts

It’s time to start appreciating D.J. Strawberry for being a very good player.

Zabian Dowdell has the coolest name in college basketball.

Very nice to see Caner-Medley step up and decide that Maryland was not going to lose to Virginia Tech and he would be the reason why.

Did you really expect any better than Maryland’s current record (13-4, 3-2) at this point in the season?

Will Bowers isn’t terrible.

Wild, Wonderful West Virginia

Ever since a few of my good friends from high school attended West Virginia, and having visited said mountain school for a few hazy weekends of lord knows what happened, I have always taken a passing interest in Mountaineers athletics. B. Pinsky, the unofficial Mountaineer spirit club chairman for the Baltimore Metropolitan area, has been lobbying me for an extended paragraph of analysis devoted to his beloved ‘Eers, but I am not really prepared, plus I think I just fired off 1,500 words on Maryland, and I’m tired. I will say this, and I’ve been thinking it for a while. West Virginia can definitely win the national championship. If you haven’t seen them play, it’s worth a look.

They are deep, experienced, and all of the team’s best players can shoot three pointers really well. A very fun team to watch. Their spiritual leader is Kevin Pittnogle – a 6-11 hick with tattoos all over the place, including his forearms, which just sort of takes it to another level – who can shoot lights out from anywhere. Their shooting guard, Kevin Gansey, is another gunner who has been going nuts lately. More on West Virginia in a future edition when I can really break it down.

Comments/thoughts/feedback/emails of people you want me to add to the list, always appreciated at greg@abelcommunications.net


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