- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

It's time for the freshmen to grow up. The Maryland Terrapins resume ACC play today against Florida State needing their young players to perform like veterans.

"It comes to a point where you have to put it on yourself to be comfortable and get past the point of being a freshman before your freshman year is over," coach Gary Williams said.

No.21 Maryland emerged from its nonconference schedule with a 7-3 record, plus an ACC victory over Georgia Tech. The December losses to three ranked teams now seem distant because the Terps have matured in recent games, including a 108-58 blowout Wednesday of a competitive Hampton team.

The Terps have two freshmen forwards starting, Nik Caner-Medley (6.5 points, 4.5 rebounds) and Travis Garrison (5.9, 5.2), plus guards John Gilchrist (4.3 points) and Chris McCray (4.0) as steady backups. Although senior guards Drew Nicholas and Steve Blake, center Ryan Randle and forward Tahj Holden account for nearly 53 points regularly, the Terps spent the early season readying the freshmen for the ACC.

"We've played enough games that they know exactly what to expect," Holden said. "They can't be labeled freshmen anymore. They're just basketball players because we've played so many games and had so many practices. The freshman year is in the past."

Garrison seemingly awakened on one play against Hampton while vying for a rebound. He shook off a foul for a dunk and went on to finish with seven rebounds and four points in 14 minutes. That key play showed that the mild-mannered Garrison has the aggressiveness needed at the college level.

"In high school, I was working on my game should I pass or shoot?" he said. "Here it was harder, more physical."

McCray also experienced an epiphany against Wagner on Jan.4 while collecting seven steals. After that, he played his best two games, with 17 points and nine steals combined.

"I've gotten my confidence back from high school," McCray said. "Coming in as a freshman is hard. Now I'm playing a little more comfortable and getting my shot off."

Williams' challenge to the freshmen and junior college transfer Jamar Smith is to play well in spurts instead of the entire game.

"The toughest thing in the first year is you're asked to play five or six minutes in bursts instead of 32," he said.

Now when the newcomers foul up, they don't shrug it off as a rookie mistake. Eleven games and nearly three months of practices have them no longer feeling like newcomers.

"I don't think the freshmen used that as an excuse even from the beginning," Caner-Medley said. "We hold ourselves to the same standards as anyone else. It's time to just play."

Williams said top players leaving college early forces teams to school young players quickly.

"It used to be when you had a freshmen team, you had them for four years," he said. "Now the teaching becomes more important. You can't improve the talent much, but you can improve how we play as a team."

One of the remaining lessons is handling the grind. Maryland will play twice a week with eight road games the next two months.

"There's a zone you try to get into coaching-wise and players, too," Williams said. "You can plan what you do each day. There's not a lot of surprises. The young guys, it's a step up. If you're a great high school player, you might have five or six games a year where you get tested. Now they get tested every night."

Certainly, Florida State's defense will test Maryland. The Terps can't rely simply on their transition game against the Seminoles' second-ranked field goal defense (35.2 percent). Maryland will have to work the ball inside with smart passes.

"They're going to try to stop us from getting out in transition and get into our halfcourt offense," Blake said.

Said Holden: "If we get our transition baskets, that will open it a little bit."

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