- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Chris Wilcox still carries wounds from the day he was cut from the team.
Maryland's impressive sophomore power forward was a seventh-grader when he was told he wasn't good enough to play for Chadbourn Middle School. The boy left the gym near his hometown of Whiteville, N.C., with his hoop dreams crushed.
"I think about that a lot," Wilcox said while sitting in the stands at Charlotte Coliseum yesterday after the Terrapins' morning shootaround before the ACC tournament. "A lot of my boys were on the team, and we all tried out. I was like, 'Yeah, I know I'm going to make it and y'all are going to make it.' They all made the team and I didn't. My aunt, my cousin and some people picked me up with my cousin. They were all back there laughing and giggling. I was like, 'Man, I'll never make it.'"
Wilcox, who temporarily gave up the sport in favor of baseball, doesn't have to concern himself with such matters these days. In fact, he has played so well recently that he might have to decide whether to take a lucrative salary in the NBA or return to Maryland as the Terps' cornerstone next season.
The 19-year-old has drawn rave reviews recently and not just for being a human helicopter with boundless arms flying down the lane for a gravity-defying tomahawk jam. The 6-foot-10 man of slam is developing an all-around game that has lit up some of the country's best teams.
Wilcox had 23 points and 11 rebounds and shut down Mike Dunleavy in the Terps' rout of No.3 Duke in mid-February. Most recently, he delivered a 21-point (on eight of nine shooting), 11-rebound performance as the dominant big man in Sunday's victory over Virginia.
"If somebody tells you you're a lottery pick, you have to go," Wilcox said, peering around the home of the NBA's Charlotte Hornets. "It's going by too fast. [Getting cut] does seem like yesterday. I just started college, and now I'm about to be a junior."
Wilcox did make Chadbourn's team in eighth grade and has been on a wild roundball ride since. He came to College Park as an above-the-rim sensation who couldn't be trusted in critical situations. This season he won the starting power forward job and improved his down-to-earth game with a soft jump hook, power rebounding and the ability to shut down some of the nation's top players.
As the second-ranked Terps open play in the ACC today, Wilcox is a prime reason Maryland is the tournament's top seed and almost certainly will gain its first No.1 regional seed when the NCAA tournament pairings are announced Sunday.
"I like him blocking shots," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "I like him playing help defense. I like him rebounding. He's done a better job of that over the course of the year. I think he is learning how to play."
Wilcox had a checkered high school career, attending three schools in four years. He struggled academically before arriving in College Park in the fall of 2000.
Things didn't begin smoothly as Wilcox butted heads with Williams. The freshman was playing little between occasional highlight-reel jams and was growing increasingly frustrated. Williams didn't care for the player's work ethic, his defensive liabilities or his inability to execute set plays. Soon Wilcox was sitting.
"A couple nights I went home and was like, 'Is this the right place for me?'" said Wilcox, who almost always smiles and has a happy-go-lucky attitude. "I would call my mom and she knew I was upset because I wasn't getting playing time. It was tough going home when we played N.C. State. I think I got in for about a minute at the end of the game.
"Last year I thought I deserved that much playing time but I really didn't. Now I understand, but I wasn't used to it. You're not going to always be a star. … I thought I was in the right, but I was in the wrong. Coach and I would have a disagreement. After practice, we would talk about it and everything would be OK. Now we have a great relationship."
Williams viewed Wilcox as raw, dominating in high school on physical talent alone. He had to learn fundamentals, like man-to-man defense, and improve his overall court awareness.
"People say Chris Wilcox is a great player," Williams said. "He's got great topside. His athletic ability is as good as Joe Smith or Steve Francis or somebody like that. But you have to learn how to set screens and learn how to be a good helping defensive player when your man doesn't have the ball. You have to have timing on your blocks so that you don't foul when your man leaves his feet but hasn't released the ball yet."
After playing one minute total in two games last season, Wilcox got a surprise and somewhat desperate start against Florida State. The Terps had lost four of five before the notorious game billed as the "Valentine's Day Massacre". The one bright spot was Wilcox, who scored 13 points in 27 minutes on 6-for-7 shooting although Maryland suffered a close defeat.
Wilcox returned to the bench after that, rarely appearing in critical situations. He played just two minutes in the comfortable West Region championship game victory over Stanford.
It was during the offseason that Wilcox began his rise, starting in the weight room, where he passed Lonny Baxter as the strongest player on the team. Wilcox sculpted himself and added power to his high-flying game.
"His body is freakish," Maryland strength coach Kurtis Shultz said." Chris can probably eat three or four pizzas and not gain a bit. He was strong right away, but his form was not good. His flexibility wasn't good enough to keep up with the pace of going up and down the court. Now [it] is."
Wilcox has gone from being a finesse player as a freshman to a sophomore who is comfortable throwing around his 220-pound body down low. He was selected third-team All-ACC this week after averaging 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in league play.
"Everyone talks about his athleticism, but I also think he is a good basketball player," said Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser, who compares him to Brian Grant, one of his former players at Xavier and currently a Miami Heat forward. "[Grant] went from being a freshman who could just dunk. Literally, that's all he could do. By the time he's a senior, he's making 3s and ends up being a lottery pick."
Wilcox concedes he rarely knew the second option on plays last season and has done homework with notes from coaches to get up to speed. Now he has earned the coach's confidence with his knowledge and refreshing attitude.
"He really runs the court well, but he wouldn't do that every play before," said Williams, who feels Wilcox could be a top-five NBA pick if he stays through next season. "Both offensively and defensively, he can do a lot of damage if he runs the court. That's been a big addition to his game this year.
"Offensive rebounds and dunks, he's as good as anybody that plays in the NBA at times. In terms of his game developing for when he does go to the next level, which he will do, he still has some things to work on."
At this point, Wilcox plans to return to College Park next season, though that could change. For now, he is savoring the moment as a key member of one of the nation's best teams and enjoying college life a far cry from being turned down for Chadbourn's team in the seventh grade.


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