- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Maryland forward Nik Caner-Medley was so lost he didn't even realize it. Whistled for his third foul in front of a hostile Wake Forest crowd in the freshman's first ACC road game, Caner-Medley returned to the bench bewildered.
"I wasn't intimidated, but sometimes you mentally don't know it," he said. "The atmosphere is different and throws things off, and you don't even realize it."
The 81-72 loss at Wake Forest on Jan.15 convinced Maryland coach Gary Williams to return to an all-senior lineup for its experience. With Caner-Medley becoming a valuable sixth man, the No.8 Terrapins (14-4) have won five straight heading into tomorrow's game against Virginia at Comcast Center.
Caner-Medley, who averages 5.9 points and 3.7 rebounds, now enters knowing he has to produce quickly or sit. His consecutive 3-pointers sparked a 14-point run in the 87-72 victory over then-No.1 Duke on Jan.18. Caner-Medley had the tying and go-ahead points and six rebounds against Clemson on Jan.25, made five steals vs. N.C. State on Jan.30 and had five points, two steals and two rebounds against Loyola on Sunday.
The wide-eyed look has turned into a puncher's stare, which comes out in his continued passion for thunderous dunks.
Williams knew Caner-Medley simply needed to focus. The 2002 Maine high school player of the year sometimes had it too easy when he led his Portland school to two straight state finals. Caner-Medley had to learn to avoid letdowns during college games that resulted in sloppy fouls or turnovers.
"When Nik was in high school he could turn it on whenever he wanted to. If he wanted to rest for 30 seconds on the court that was fine. He'd score six points in the next minute," Williams said. "You can't do that. You have to go hard every play. That's been his biggest adjustment. He's not afraid to shoot it. Nik has shown in spots what he can do. He's just got to do it more."
Caner-Medley also is undergoing the traditional maturation of a freshman. Not just being away from home and classroom challenges, but how every part of the season brings new experiences.
"You start off getting used to the speed and level of play. Then you get used to that, and the next challenge is to get ready to play against the higher-tier teams like Duke. Then you have to get used to playing on the road," he said. "Now we'll see what the next challenge is. Now for the last stretch we have to play like we have experience. We don't have a lot, but we've gotten through those little things."
The Terps' four heralded freshmen largely are producing. Caner-Medley plays ahead of fellow forward Travis Garrison, who also was benched after the Wake Forest loss, but Garrison is steadily progressing. Guards John Gilchrist and Chris McCray get regular minutes no matter the situation.
The early season routs have given way to intense ACC games in which rookie mistakes become opposing points. After 18 games, the newcomers can no longer blame inexperience.
"The coaches and seniors get into the freshmen's heads early that it's not an excuse that you're a freshman," Caner-Medley said. "You can only use it for a game or two."
But the benefits of not being the star haven't been overlooked by Caner-Medley. He likes blending into the lineup.
"I was the whole show [in high school]," he said. "I didn't really have much of a team thing. I like how you have to rely on your teammates here. In high school I never won a big game like Duke."
Guard Steve Blake is among 30 finalists for the John Wooden Award, a national honor based on performance on the court and in the classroom. He leads active players with 876 career assists, which is 16th in NCAA history. Blake needs 11 points to reach 1,000 for his career, while guard Drew Nicholas is 12 short. The Wooden field will be narrowed to 15 in March before the April15 announcement.

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