- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2008

One by one, James Gist’s bleary-eyed Maryland teammates stumbled into breakfast Saturday morning in Charlotte, N.C., a motley mix of lethargy, messed-up hair and audible yawning.

Gist, though, would have none of it four hours before tipoff, urging the Terrapins to be ready for the challenge looming after a short bus ride to the arena.

Consider it a subtly vital moment for Gist and Maryland, whose fates are intertwined over the next two-plus months.

I don’t think we’re good enough to the point where you don’t have to say anything to anybody and you just expect they’re going to be ready to play, said Gist, whose Terps (9-6) play host to Holy Cross (9-3) tonight. You have to be able to motivate guys to be able to want to play, and you have to make sure everybody is ready at every point you can.

The Terps’ three-game winning streak coincides with a surge by Gist, Maryland’s lone four-year player. From the start of the year it was understood this would be Gist’s team.

Maryland reflected Gist during its December doldrums, losing to Ohio and American as the senior fouled out of both games with more than five minutes remaining and saw his effectiveness thwarted as teams floated into a zone to deny him the ball.

After the Terps returned from their Christmas break, Gist met with coach Gary Williams and acknowledged he hadn’t done his part as a senior or a leader and promised to become more assertive.

I told him I was looking forward to adding more of an emphasis on what goes on with the team and what goes on in the locker room, Gist said. I just told Coach I was going to do more of that because I think that’s what we need.

Since then Gist has averaged 18.7 points and 8.7 rebounds, including a 25-point, 10-rebound outing Saturday at Charlotte. He scored 18 points in the second half, doing his part to bust up the triangle-and-two the 49ers deployed to stifle guards Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez.

I think he’s working harder, Williams said. I think there’s a tendency not just by players but people around them to say how well you’re doing is based on how many points you score. There’s so many things James can do and if we’re going to be good he has to do for us. Sometimes that has to be pointed out. I think James is seeing that.

Teammates also see a change in Gist. Sophomore Landon Milbourne noticed him growing more vocal before games, and the senior implores teammates to come into the gym as much as possible for extra work during the semester break.

Whenever Milbourne and others arrive, Gist is already there.

He’s a vocal leader. He just has to lead by example, Vasquez said. He does more, and as long he keeps himself consistently doing that, we’re going to be a great team because we definitely need James Gist to play well.

Gist knew he would need to be an anchor for the Terps as they navigated some bumpy patches. They just happened to be bumpier than expected.

Still, Gist’s career arc, from an underclassman on the first two Maryland teams in more than a decade to miss the NCAA tournament to a starter on last year’s resurgent squad, provided him a different prism through which to view the Terps’ struggles than any of his teammates.

When he was a freshman, he went through it when they were losing and playing in the NIT, freshman Cliff Tucker said. He told us to keep our heads up, that he was basically putting us on his shoulders, and he’s been carrying us right now.

Yet just as he prodded his teammates Saturday, Gist said he pushes himself to continue his turnaround. After all, the Terps’ success depends on it.

I was saying, ‘My presence isn’t being known out there,’ Gist said of his earlier struggles. I know I’m capable of doing that, and I feel like I have to do more and give more to the team. The more I give to the team, the more the team is going to give back. I want to go out with a bang.

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