- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Drew Nicholas doesn't want his college career to end. Four years just weren't enough.

"This is the best time of your life," the Maryland Terrapins guard said. "You don't have to worry about paying bills. Your parents still send you money occasionally. … It's sad it has to end."

Nicholas isn't alone. Five seniors will play their final home game tonight when the No. 14 Terrapins (17-7, 9-4) meet the Clemson Tigers (15-8, 5-7) at Comcast Center. The class of guard Steve Blake, center Ryan Randle, forwards Calvin McCall and Tahj Holden and Nicholas departs with a national championship, two Final Four appearances and an ongoing season that has surpassed expectations.

Several of those players have a chance of playing in the NBA, and a few want to become coaches. All five expect to graduate by the summer. They will receive jerseys during a pregame ceremony tonight and get one final cheer from the fans at home before finishing the season at N.C. State and Virginia.

Nicholas leaves as a rarity: a player who leads his team in scoring but didn't start until his final season. He served as a valuable reserve behind guard Juan Dixon now with the Washington Wizards for three seasons and averaged between five and seven points a game each year.

Nicholas briefly considered leaving Maryland after his sophomore year, but he knew his chance would come eventually. It did and the long wait proved to be worthwhile. Nicholas gives the Terps a strong, necessary outside shooter, averaging 17.5 points and scoring in double digits in 22 of 24 games.

"It's about staying tough, just waiting your turn," he said. "It's something a lot of guys don't want to do. They don't want to sit behind a guy. A lot of guys these days get to play early on. I never got that luxury. I really think it's helped me become a better basketball player. You learn things. You get smarter and wiser."

Said Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt: "Drew should be applauded for being patient and learning and now being a primary player. More people need to be talking about him as the model of a student athlete."

Nicholas worked on improving his inside game this season. He has spent more time underneath looking for second shots and has increased his free throws attempts (93 of 109 for a team-best 85.3 percent this season) after attempting 142 over three seasons.

"I love getting to the foul line," Nicholas said. "I know a lot of people labeled me a shooter, but if I have to get an offensive rebound for two points, I'll do it."

Opponents now can't rush at Nicholas on a 3-point attempt without worrying he will cut inside. That versatility creates opportunities.

"Drew's stealing the ball more," coach Gary Williams said. "He's getting to the free throw line more. He's getting rebounds. That wasn't part of his game, but being with Juan the last couple of years he figured that out. Drew's got a good release, but he doesn't take many bad shots. For as many points as he scores, he doesn't force it as much."

Blake regularly has found Nicholas on the fastbreak. Nicholas often heads to the left side for a 3-pointer, waiting for Blake to finish penetrating up the middle. Sometimes Nicholas will move inside to convert Blake's assist with a dunk to keep defenders off balance.

"They're not just instinctive in their own moves, but they play off each other so well," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "It's an advantage."

But could Nicholas handle the pressure of being the go-to scorer? It was among the Terps' chief concerns early in the season, a worry that Nicholas eased with a 29-point performance in an 84-77 victory over Georgia Tech on Dec. 29.

"It's one thing to say, 'I'm going to step up and do it,' but you don't realize the pressure involved," Williams said. "He's had to work harder this year in terms of preparing himself. After winning last year, it's asking a lot for a senior to work harder. It has been a great thing to watch Drew go from being a shooter to a basketball player."

Nicholas just wishes he could enjoy it longer. After all, it was a long journey for such a short ride.

"I wish I could have that opportunity to play major minutes for more than one year," he said. "I played behind a pretty good player for three years. It gave me a sense of urgency. I'm trying to leave a lasting impression."

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