Any coach spends his offseason plotting how his team will play, scheming up ways to best utilize the pieces on his roster.
Maryland’s Gary Williams will finally have all of his options Saturday —- a little more than four weeks into the season.
Forward Dino Gregory is expected to be available for the first time after sitting out the first eight games for a team rules-related suspension as the Terrapins (5-3) play host to Eastern Kentucky (7-2).
“We’re a better team with Dino Gregory,” Williams said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Gregory’s return is a remarkably heralded one for a player who has never cracked double digits in points or rebounds in 49 games. The two-year reserve averaged 2.6 points and 3.2 rebounds as Maryland’s primary frontcourt reserve a season ago.
The modest numbers aside, Gregory was an obvious contender to start in the frontcourt in the preseason. With Jerome Burney‘s career over because of chronic foot injuries and Steve Goins dealing with knee issues, Gregory and freshmen James Padgett and Jordan Williams were left as Maryland’s realistic interior help.
In Gregory’s absence, Padgett and Williams were force-fed minutes —- hardly ideal now, though it figured to help in the long term. Padgett is averaging 5.6 points and 4.8 rebounds, though he didn’t score in games against Indiana and Villanova this month.
Meanwhile, Williams had 19 points and 12 rebounds against Villanova, a performance that hinted at more production to come. He averages 8.6 rebounds, seventh in the ACC.
Gregory’s addition figures to make both better.
“It’s definitely going to be a change when Dino comes back because he has an inside presence,” guard Sean Mosley said. “James and Jordan are doing a tremendous job, don’t get me wrong on that. But having a guy that’s veteran and [him] knowing where he can get his rebounds at and where he can get his shots from, having Dino back is definitely going to be a plus for us.”
It’s uncertain just how quickly Gregory will be eased into the lineup —- whether it’s instantly being thrown into a starting role or coming off the bench as he has his entire career. Williams’ double-double Sunday would suggest the freshman will continue to start, at least for now.
But Gregory’s place in the rotation will make some difference. Maryland won’t have to go with a four-guard set whenever it wants to get Landon Milbourne a rest. The spillover should also avoid foul issues with Williams, a wide body who seems certain to frequently get to the foul line so long as he remains aggressive,
“It was the way we came into the year thinking we’d play,” Gary Williams said. “That’s the big thing. Now we have the rotation inside that we want. The pressure on James and Jordan to be main players won’t be there, so they can learn like most freshmen learn at the pace you’d like them to learn.”
Gregory practiced with Maryland throughout his suspension, so concerns about inactivity should be assuaged. The greater question is whether Gregory, at 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds, can do much to reverse Maryland’s obvious rebounding issues.
Williams praised Gregory late last season for his defensive presence, and there’s little doubt his interior play helped Maryland beat N.C. State and Wake Forest in the ACC tournament and then California in the NCAA tournament.
The Terps, though, are the only team in the conference to be outrebounded this season, and it’s clear Maryland hopes Gregory can correct that problem.
“I think we’ll be a lot different team when he’s on the floor,” guard Eric Hayes said.
—- Patrick Stevens