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


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Terp Nation #2

Terp Nation #2

Why is this night different from all of the other nights, Terrapin Nation?

Because tonight is the Duke game, 9 p.m. on the Flagship, with Dickie V. on color commentary, Gary sweating through his suit before the first TV timeout, and our Turtles clawing to beat Duke for the (yes) fourth straight time.

Did you even realize that Maryland has won the last three? That’s right, the Terps beat Duke in the ACC tournament in 2004, then twice last year. Which begs the question, does beating Duke really make your season? What do you remember about last year’s Terps? I remember the team missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in a dozen years, the Gilchrist drama, and the overall malaise of watching a program suffer through a downer of a year.

But it still feels good really good fantastic amazing orgasmic to beat Duke doesn’t it? And why is that? Well, here are some reasons why a win tonight would be right up there with found money:

  • Duke is 14-0 and ranked #1 (uh-gain).*
  • J.J. Redick
  • Is anything better than watching Coach K. quietly stew late in a game he is going to lose while his face turns beet red? (Sure, Gary is a spaz, but at least we know what he’s thinking. When things don’t go his way, Coach K. ducks his face in his hands or turns his back and, don’t kid yourself, spews fourth a string of very dirty profanity.)
  • Silencing the Cameron Crazies just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn’t it?

*I was looking up a stat on the Duke sports website (www.goduke.com … don’t go there, it’s almost as disturbing as A Clockwork Orange. You just clicked it, didn’t you? I told you not to. Don’t blame me.) and read that 14 times in the 21 seasons under Coach K., Duke has been ranked #1 at some point in the season. I mean, that’s impressive, no matter how much they annoy you. You know how many times Maryland has ever been ranked #1 during the regular season at any time in any season in the history of the program? That would be zero. I’m just sayin.

** I’m not a J.J. hater, he’s actually one of the more interesting and impressive players to come along and stick around for four years in quite some time. If you take away the fact that he wears a Duke uniform, which is impossible, you can sit back and just enjoy one of the great offensive players in college basketball of the last decade. But facts are facts, and the fact here is that J.J. swishes 40 footers for the enemy. At least he has grown up a bit, and stopped celebrating baskets like he just nailed a half-court bomb for a million dollars. That part was really annoying. Lee Melchionni still does this. Watch him after he makes a big bucket, or better yet, when one of his teammates does, especially after a three-point play. He will jump in that players arms like an 8th grade cheerleader. C’mon, Maryland can beat Duke, right? Lee Melchi-freakin-onni?

Where were we? Oh yeah, reciting reasons why it would feel good to beat Duke. So, can it happen? Will it happen?

Oh man, I don’t know. I mean, of course it can happen, Maryland is about the only team in the ACC in the last 10 years to figure out a way to beat Duke on a consistent basis, and even the Terps aren’t even that good at it. Let’s throw some quick data your way on this…

Since the 1998-99 season, which was Juan Dixon’s freshman year and the year Steve Francis honored Cole Field House with his presence, kicking off the most successful era in the program’s history, Maryland is 7-11 vs. Duke. That’s respectable, and I have to think, though I didn’t look it up, better than any other ACC team during this period. UNC, for example, is 3-15 against Duke since 1998-99 (sorry Edmonds).

For the better part of a decade, Maryland-Duke has been the best rivalry going in college basketball, even though tonight’s version isn’t nearly as compelling as the Dixon/Blake/Baxter, etc. squad vs. Jay Williams/Shane Battier/Carlos Boozer, etc. but, well, you take what you can get, right?

Getting back to whether or not Maryland will win…

Lloyd: What are the chances of a guy like you and a girl like me... ending up together?
Mary: Not good.
Lloyd: Not good like one in a hundred?
Mary: I'd say more like one in a million.
Lloyd: So you're telling me there's a chance?

No, no, no. The odds aren’t that bad. Maryland and Duke have split their last 12 games dating back to 2001 and Duke has only lost six games at home since the 1999-2000 season and Maryland owns three of those wins. So… all of this is a long-winded way of saying that even though the Terps lost at mediocre Miami on Saturday and Duke clubbed a surging Wake team the next day, the Terps can win tonight. I’d say it’s a 3-1, maybe a 4-1 shot.

Oh, what the hell, Maryland 89, Duke 86.

What was that in Miami?

How to explain Maryland’s stinker at Miami over the weekend? Two things stand out in my mind. First, Miami got really hot from three-point land and never cooled off. They went 12-19 from behind the arc. When a team has three guys who are just feeling it from long range all in the same game, well, you are just going to lose that game, and lose is what Maryland did. The other factor that stands out in my mind is that Chris McCray had his first bad game of the year; shot 1 for 7 from the field and didn’t get double figures for the first time all year. Let’s just try to block that one out, shall we?

Worst part about the loss is that it casts doubt on whether or not Maryland is any good. Miami hadn’t beaten any good teams this year and somehow it all came together with the Terps in town. Time will tell. As diggruntled Terp watch Ron Herbst said on my voice mail after the game, “They just keep waiting for other teams to get worse.” Let’s hope that’s not the case. As A. Wolfe put it in a text message, “Maryland sucked today.” True enough.

The Andre Collins show

I swung over to Loyola College in Baltimore on Sunday to see with my own eyes the Andre Collins show. Collins, the Maryland transfer, is currently second in the country in scoring at about 28 points per game, sitting there between Adam Morrison and Redick on the scoring chart.

So, what’s it like at a Loyola game? Well, it feels much more like a high school game than a big-time college atmosphere. I parked on the street for free, walked a few minutes through campus to the arena; paid $5 for a general admission ticket, then sat center court about 10 rows up. The students were still on break so it wasn’t as lively as it might have been, but they probably got about 2500 people in there.

Best part was that I was surrounded by a bunch of Baltimore city and county coaches, all of whom had some connection to the players or were there to see Collins, or were there to see each other. What’s not to like? For all blather about Maryland this and Maryland that, it was really fun to catch a game that felt a lot more like a game than a staged production.

As for Collins, he had 29 on 9 of 25 shooting, and all 9 of his made baskets were 3s. Loyola won by 2, thanks to a Collins 3 in the last 20 seconds, fun for the whole family.

Drew Nicholas lighting up the EuroLeague

This week’s feel-good story about a former Terp comes to you from Treviso, Italy, home of historic churches, beautiful canals, and a lanky 6-3 shooting guard who has become, in the words of one NBA scout, the “Richard Hamilton of European basketball.” After his senior season, Nicholas didn’t get much of a look from any of the top European clubs, much less the NBA. Three years into his professional career, Nicholas is gunning for his third scoring title, currently leading all EuroLeague players at about 19 points per game (http://www.euroleague.net/stats/standings.jsp).

He played his first year for a second-tier Italian League team and led the league in scoring at 28 points per game. His second year, last year, Drew moved up to the top Italian league and again led the league in scoring while playing for a bad team. This year, Nicholas moved up to one of the top teams in Italy and all of European basketball, Benetton Treviso (, and is thriving once again. If you click around on the EuroLeague website (www.euroleague.net), you’ll find plenty of recognizable names from big-time American programs, guys like Trajan Langdon from Duke, Louis Bullock from Michigan, Scoonie Penn from Ohio State, and plenty of others. His own teammate incidentally, a big Italian named Andrea Bargnani, will probably be one of the top five picks in next year’s NBA draft.

That’s going to do it for this week. Go Terps.