- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

Maryland forward Calvin McCall still thinks of himself as a quarterback. Maybe that's why he's become the Terrapins' basketball playmaker.

McCall isn't among the first options offensively. He's not the defensive cornerstone. McCall simply sparks turnarounds with hustle plays. He led both Maryland scoring runs in stymieing Clemson's upset bid on Saturday and nearly paced a comeback during a loss at Wake Forest on Jan. 15.

"Calvin's an 'X' factor," guard Drew Nicholas said. "He constantly makes that tough play for us. He does so many things that don't show up on the stat sheet."

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McCall starts his fourth straight game tonight in 10th-ranked Maryland's showdown against N.C. State for first place in the ACC at Comcast Center. Coach Gary Williams promoted McCall because he needed a scrapper. McCall declined to come out at the end of a game despite a gash under his eye, and kicked a chair following the loss to Wake Forest. He doesn't take defeat well.

McCall emerged as a starter over freshmen Nik Caner-Medley and Travis Garrison after he proved to be a magnet for loose balls and key rebounds.

"Calvin has no fear. He's come out and played more than I thought he would play this year, but he's earned it," Williams said. "He gets that rebound or loose ball or reading where to cut. We needed that. You need guys willing to do those things. Usually, people don't volunteer. There's not a big line. As a senior you might not want to do that. That might be a young guy's role just to get on the court, but Cal's been willing to do that."

McCall grew up watching Charlie Ward play football and basketball for Florida State. Ward won the Heisman Trophy before choosing an NBA career so McCall didn't see a problem with leaving the football team after starting 17 games his first two years.

McCall was the ACC Rookie of the Year runner-up and two-time player of the week, and finished behind Virginia Tech's Michael Vick among Division I-A freshmen quarterbacks in passing efficiency and total offense.

"I think I'm football. That's where my career started," McCall said. "Basketball was something I wanted to do and tried. There's not a lot of people who can say they started in two sports on a major level."

McCall averaged five minutes during 24 games his first two seasons when he joined the basketball team after football season. The first Terp to play both sports in seven years found that the crossover was time-consuming and rendered him ineffective in basketball.

"Once I came in from football, my rhythm was bad. Ballhanding, shooting was off," McCall said. "It took time to get back."

McCall committed to basketball last year. Watching his former teammates win an ACC title and the Peach Bowl the last two seasons wasn't bittersweet because McCall was part of the basketball team's national championship drive.

"They got two rings and I got a couple of rings. I can't say I ever missed it," he said. "I've got the big ring, and I'm real happy, real happy."

McCall averaged a career-low 4.2 minutes last season despite playing 19 games. The Terps were too deep and played too many tight games during the championship season to give him much time.

McCall entered his senior season as a role model for the four freshmen. Williams wanted him to mentor the newcomers with his intense work ethic. However, McCall believed he should play regularly, after paying more dues than a teamster over three seasons.

"I did have something to prove because we had the top recruits and I was overlooked at the beginning," he said.

McCall steadily gained time during the non-conference schedule. He played a career-high 26 minutes against Indiana and scored a career-best 11 points against Maryland-Baltimore County before missing two games with a sprained ankle.

After McCall fueled a late first-half run against Wake Forest with six quick points, Williams decided to go with an all-senior lineup promoting McCall and forward Tahj Holden, who returned from a short-lived stay on the bench. Williams realized McCall's gritty contributions were regularly needed at both ends.

"I guess we finally got all the football out of him," Williams said. "He's more of a basketball player this year. It does make a difference."

McCall already has played more minutes (244) than the first three years (198). His 5.6 scoring average is quadruple his earlier career average, and he's pulling down 3.4 rebounds. The fifth-year senior has finally blossomed.

"Cal probably appreciates it a lot more because he didn't get a chance to play much earlier in his career," Nicholas said. "He got a chance to learn from the bench and is now just trying to do whatever he can."

McCall doesn't miss his year-round workout regimen. No more early-morning weight lifting or running steps.

"Every day I go home from practice or a game, I'm satisfied," he said.

Note Former Terps coach Lefty Driesell (1970-86) will be honored at halftime tonight. Driesell retired from Georgia State earlier this season after 42 years of coaching.

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