- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 15, 2003

Josh Howard will visit Maryland tomorrow night as the front-runner for ACC Player of the Year and a strong candidate for All-American honors. He has 15th-ranked Wake Forest in first place in the conference and primed to win the regular-season title for the first time since Tim Duncan patrolled the paint in 1997.
However, Howard will not be treated like one of the best players in college basketball by fans at Comcast Center. Instead, the senior likely will be the object of ridicule as he returns to the campus where he made the most colossal mistake of his career. Howard called time out when his team didn't have any in last season's game, and the gaffe cost the Demon Deacons a chance at a monumental upset.
"I lost the game for my team," Howard said this week. "They came down here earlier in the season and won and took our hearts out. That was a payback game and I [messed] it up."
Howard's mistake came with 1.3 seconds left after he grabbed a defensive rebound with the game tied 89-89. He instinctively called time out and immediately hung his head as the referee called the technical foul. Juan Dixon converted a free throw, and Maryland won by one.
"It was like a gift," Terrapins point guard Steve Blake said at the time. "I'm happy he did it. I can't feel too sorry for him. It won the game for us."
Howard was having a marvelous game with 18 points and 15 rebounds before his infamous decision. The Demon Deacons were reduced to tears following the heartbreaker at Cole Field House.
"Josh cried in the locker room," teammate Steve Lepore said. "He felt like he lost the game. But we all knew we wouldn't have even been in a situation to win if it wasn't for Josh. He didn't even start the game because of his ankle injury."
Wake Forest (17-3, 7-2 ACC) returns to No.16 Maryland (15-6, 7-3) a much different team than the one that left Cole in pieces. The Demon Deacons are riding an emotional high after a double-overtime win against Duke that snapped a 14-game losing streak to the Blue Devils. Wake Forest also ended a seven-game skid to the Terps last month in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Howard is the only starter back from last season and has emerged as a dominant force. The 6-foot-6 slasher leads the ACC in scoring with an 18.8 average and is third in rebounds at 8.2. He has improved his perimeter and free throw shooting from 66 percent last season to 84 percent and has been able to overcome shin splints to become one of the nation's finest players.
"He's the best player in the league," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We all knew he was an outstanding player. Now he's such a complete player. His team gains confidence just by playing with him."
The sculpted 203-pounder also is Wake Forest's defensive stopper, using his long arms to make steals and block shots. On offense, the swingman handles like a guard, regularly breaks down defenders and drives for easy baskets and draws fouls. A more consistent outside jumper gives him another weapon.
"He has always attacked the basket," said Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser, whose team has won five straight conference games. "But now when he gets the ball on the perimeter, you have to play him honestly. He has always been able to score when he hits the glass and off the dribble, and now he has a jump shot."
Howard also has a knack for scoring off offensive rebounds. He is second in the league in offensive boards and uses his explosive leaping ability to make clutch put-backs.
About the only role with which Howard isn't fully comfortable is being a team leader. The laid-back small forward inherited the role by default after Wake Forest lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season.
"It's not natural for him," said Prosser, who is in his second season at Wake Forest. "He had to do it for us. He is the only junior or senior that gets significant playing time. He's done more than adjust."
The Winston-Salem native, who came back home after spending a season at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy where current Xavier star David West was a teammate, didn't embrace the role as a vocal leader.
"At first, I didn't like it," said Howard, who had a career-high 32 points this season against North Carolina. "I was used to hiding behind other guys. But as time went on, I realized people were looking up to me. It was an adjustment."
The spotlight again will be on Howard tomorrow night, and he fully expects to see Maryland fans mocking him by making the "T" sign. Howard said he was "miserable" for about a week after last season's game, and was comforted when fans, even of other ACC teams, sent him letters and e-mails of support.
He took solace that the mental error came during the regular season and doesn't believe he will be forever haunted by the incident as might be the case with Chris Webber, who cost Michigan a chance to win the 1993 national title game against North Carolina when he made the same blunder.
"I had another game and another year to play," said Howard, a third-team All-ACC last season despite being beset by injuries. "That helped me through it. That was [Webbers] last game. He's probably thinking about that every other week. Maybe not because he's getting paid."
Howard doesn't feel the incident has scarred him, but he does pay more attention in the huddle and is keenly aware of the timeout situation. He looks forward to returning to Maryland and leaving a different impression.
"I know the fans are going to get on me," he said. "I'm ready for it. When I go up there, I will play as hard as I did last time. I just won't call timeout."

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