The Washington Times - June 17, 2009, 12:38AM

The early reviews on the start of the 20-in-20 series are in.

And, in short, it would seem to be considered a big, steaming pile of FAIL.


Based on the criteria delineated in the precursor to this series, though, it is a defensible choice —- if the entire body of work is considered rather than a rather forgettable final season.

But enough of that. Instead, it’s time to look at a guy who came to Maryland drawing comparisons to an athletic rim-rocker of the recent past and left … as, well, a guy with the ability to earn a late second-round NBA Draft nod and make a nice living in his first year out of school in Italy.

And that would be James Gist.

Gist’s career statistically looks exactly like what an above-average player who stays in school four seasons should look like. He increased his points, rebounds, steals, blocks, free throw shooting percentage and minutes each year.

He was a raw product when he first arrived out of Good Counsel, inviting the possibility that the Terps had uncovered the next Chris Wilcox. And Gist could certainly dunk and block shots.

If there was a facet of the gradual maturation of his game that was a little unusual it was the burst of 3-point attempts as a senior —- 71 after uncorking 23 in the three previous seasons. But at least it wasn’t too crazy; after all, he was 13-for-35 (37.1 percent) in ACC regular season games his final year.

There were some memorable nights in that senior season, too. He scored 27 points against Northeastern, every one of them needed in the overtime defeat of the Huskies. Gist had 30 points on a night Greivis Vasquez matched a school record with 15 assists against N.C. State.

And then there was the 31-point, 11-rebound effort at Wake Forest, a virtuoso performance from a senior trying to extend his career. Trouble is, he scored 40 points in the next three games —- all Maryland losses —- and the Terps wound up in the NIT.

That, in a few ways, will probably not help the perception of Gist’s career in the long-term. The lanky forward played in only one NCAA tournament, a rueful development for a guy who said several times he grew up pretty much assuming Maryland would be in the field of 64 (or 65) every season.

Gist learned the hard way that wasn’t the case. But he is 18th on the career scoring list (1,414 points), 11th in rebounds (783) and fourth in blocked shots (231), and he was the Terps’ best interior player his last two seasons.

The final product (or at least the product that departed College Park a little more than a year ago) possessed a much more polished game than when he arrived. No, he didn’t emulate Wilcox. He was more like an improved version of Rodney Elliott, though their senior years were quite similar (minus Gist’s blocked shots).

That was enough for the San Antonio Spurs to draft him in the second round, which is probably something cooler to tell the grandkids in another 40 years than mentioning he averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in his first season in Italy.

It’s infinitely better than landing at No. 19 on this list. But all things considered, it’s an appropriate spot for the agreeable local product who probably will be remembered somewhat unfairly for his athleticism and his teams’ shortcomings far more than his steady improvement throughout his career.

—- Patrick Stevens