- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Early-morning shootouts have helped turn Maryland guard Chris McCray into a gunner again.

McCray (11.1 points) has nearly quadrupled his freshman scoring average as the No.24 Terrapins (6-2) meet UNC Greensboro (4-5) tonight at Comcast Center. Although McCray averaged 26.8 points at Fairmont Heights High and set a school record for points (1,970) and 3-pointers (197), he needed encouragement to shoot more often at Maryland.

McCray, John Gilchrist and forward Nik Caner-Medley spent several 2a.m. sessions inside empty Comcast trying to regain their shooting strokes after early-season slumps. The three sophomores often combined for 1,000 shots before returning to the dorm. Informal workouts are a Terps tradition, with Juan Dixon, Drew Nicholas and Steve Blake among recent players working into the wee hours.

Obviously, the drills have worked.

Gilchrist has won an ACC Player of the Week Award, and Caner-Medley scored 22 points in a 69-68 overtime upset at then-No.1 Florida on Dec.10. And McCray continues to be a big early-season surprise as an outside threat after scoring 16 points twice and reaching double figures in six of the last seven games.

He has a team-best 12 3-pointers and leads Maryland foul shooters (82.6 percent). All in all, McCray has shown dramatic improvement after averaging only 9.3 minutes last season and playing just one minute over the final six games.

“People think it’s easy [moving from high school to college], but it’s probably the biggest adjustment you have to make in your whole life,” McCray said. “The game is so fast, and people are a lot stronger and bigger. High school centers are 6-4, but ACC centers are 6-11.”

This season McCray averaged only eight shots in his first four starts. Coach Gary Williams appreciates McCray’s suffocating defense, but he urged the player to get more involved offensively.

“Coach told me to look for my shot a little more,” McCray said, “but at the same time don’t try to do anything I really can’t do.”

Making six of eight shots in a 73-67 overtime win over No.15 Wisconsin on Dec.2 shortly after the first night practice session boosted McCray’s confidence. Though he’s averaged only nine shots over the last four games, he now takes a more prominent role when the Terps need an outside basket.

“Chris has much more confidence right now than he did last year at any time,” Williams said.

Tonight the Terps return from a nine-day exam break, having thrashed Pepperdine 96-72 on Dec.14. Maryland has regrouped after losing to No.15 Gonzaga and West Virginia in the BB&T; Classic early this month, but Williams is worried the Terps might overlook Greensboro.

“Players look at the schedule every year and like to think, ‘OK, we don’t have to play that hard against that team,” he said, “and when you get into that, that’s when you lose some of those games.”

The College Park campus is nearly deserted for the winter break, making a capacity crowd unlikely for one of the few times this season. Combined with the Christmas lull before Sunday’s ACC opener against Florida State, Williams knows tonight’s game is dangerous for his young team.

“You want them to get fired up, but it’s hard because nobody’s around here,” he said. “This is where you have to be tough. You have to sacrifice. Like anything else in life, it’s not all good all of the time.”

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