- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2006

Chris McCray emerged from the Washington Wizards’ practice court inside Verizon Center wearing a basketball jersey. He was not, however, wearing the trademark wide smile that was a staple during much of his career at Maryland.

In January, the former Terrapin was declared academically ineligible midway through his senior season. Yesterday he was trying to make the next step in his basketball career — even if he was not able to finish the previous phase.

McCray, the Terps’ leading scorer and co-captain before his dismissal, spent the last two months in Houston with other NBA hopefuls in intense workouts under the guidance of former Maryland All-American John Lucas.

He was apologetic and contrite about his hasty exodus from College Park.

“I take 100 percent responsibility,” said McCray, who averaged 15.2 points and 3.5 rebounds in 16 games last season. “I was the leader of the University of Maryland’s team for three years. I was a captain. I let those guys down. That’s basically how I felt from the day it happened until now.”

The 6-foot-5 shooting guard was among five players — along with Georgetown’s Brandon Bowman, Colorado’s Chris Copeland, Miami’s Robert Hite and Delta State’s Jeremy Richardson — to go through the drills in front of the Wizards’ brass in hopes of improving their NBA stock.

The Wizards have the 18th pick in the first round and a second-round pick (48th overall) in the June 28 draft.

Bowman is the only one in yesterdays’ group expected to be chosen. He is forecast to be a second-round pick following a subpar senior season with the Hoyas. McCray likely is competing for a free agent invitation to an NBA summer-league team in hopes of being invited back for fall camp.

“My stock dropped automatically because I didn’t play the last half of the year,” the Capitol Heights native said. “I basically have to work two times as hard as the other guys.”

McCray showed he is still a strong outside shooter, and he has been working on his ballhandling in an effort to enhance his game. He plans to spend the next few days working with Maryland assistant coach Mike Adams — he also said he speaks regularly to Terps coach Gary Williams — in preparation for the NBA pre-draft camp in Orlando, Fla., in two weeks.

But before he can look ahead, McCray can’t help but think about what could have been at Maryland. The Terps were ranked 19th with a 13-4 record prior to his departure on Jan. 22. They lost nine of their last 15 games after he was dismissed, failed to make the NCAA tournament for a second consecutive season and lost in the first round of the NIT.

“I had a great coach in Coach Williams,” said McCray, who shot 51.6 percent from the field last season and 36.9 percent on 3-pointers. “He just sat me down. I had tears in my eyes. He had tears in his eyes. We knew we had something special this year. It was just one of those situations where he couldn’t do anything about it.

“I take 100 percent of the responsibility. He put me in the best situation to succeed, and I didn’t take advantage of it.”

And as the Terps’ season began to unravel, the player counted on to lead the team to great heights was sidelined by schoolwork.

“I am a grown man, but I still cry because I know I was supposed to be out there with those guys,” McCray said. “When they started losing, it really hurt me — because I couldn’t fight for them.”

McCray said he intends to use that difficult experience as motivation for a pro career.

“You don’t get over it,” McCray said. “Maybe I will get over it if I continue to wear this jersey or another jersey. Whatever team I play for or wherever I play, I think it will be a positive for me — because I can start back playing five-on-five basketball.

“It definitely motivated me. I let those guys down. That is basically what has built up in me. So when I get tired, that gives me extra incentive to go another half-hour because of what I did at the University of Maryland. I won’t let myself down anymore.”

Bowman also will have to overcome a difficult season, one in which his shooting percentage dipped to 45 percent and his scoring dropped from 15.1 points to 11.0. The preseason Wooden Award candidate made only 28.6 percent of his 3-pointers and had a poor NCAA tournament, where he missed all seven of his 3-point attempts and did not score in a second-round win over Ohio State.

“That is what I have been working on the most,” said Bowman, who watched tapes after the season and felt his shot was too flat. “I am trying to get a little more arc on my shot and being more consistent with it. That is what I have been working on the most.”

This was Bowman’s fourth individual workout for a team and he expects to do another four or five in addition to playing in the NBA pre-draft camp.

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