- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2004

Maryland shooting guard Chris McCray used an unusual and probably unintended method of ending a three-month offensive slump: He shot off his mouth to Terrapins coach Gary Williams.

Their sideline confrontation occurred during Maryland’s Feb.22 loss to Duke at a time when the Terps appeared to be fading from contention for the NCAA tournament. McCray was having a lackluster game at Cameron Indoor Stadium when he failed to notice the shot clock was about to expire early in the second half, continuing to dribble as the buzzer sounded.

Williams, who is among the most volatile of coaches, immediately yanked McCray and lit into him. The player fired back with his own choice words, and their argument lasted several minutes.

“I kind of [forgot] my place,” McCray said, recalling the moment.

Understandably, McCray was scared when Williams summoned him to his office the next day, expecting at least a one-game suspension. Instead, the coach told McCray he was going to have to take more of a role on offense.

Mission accomplished. McCray immediately stepped up his game and continues to do so — one of the big pluses for Maryland (16-11, 7-9 ACC) as it opens play in the ACC tournament against third-seeded Wake Forest (19-8, 9-7) in tonight’s final quarterfinal game at Greensboro Coliseum.

Williams disciplined McCray for the outburst by not starting him in the next two games, but now the veteran coach is one of the sophomore’s biggest boosters.

“Chris has that quiet personality, and sometimes that hurt him in terms of his being aggressive,” Williams said. “I like the idea that he came out of his shell at the Duke game. … He wouldn’t show he was upset before. That’s part of being a little cautious, when you are afraid to show emotion. He’s out of that now.”

McCray also sees the incident in a positive light.

“When that happened, all my frustrations came out of my body,” he said. “I was frustrated with my play. I wasn’t producing. I wasn’t helping my team win games. And we were losing. … Basically my whole attitude towards everything changed after that.”

Now McCray’s swagger is back, complete with one-fist chest pumps and an array of facial contortions that would make Jim Carrey envious. McCray is taking advantage of open looks and showing an unexpected desire for dribble penetration. And he is freelancing plays, such as a reverse dunk that tied the game in the second half against Virginia on Sunday.

McCray failed to reach double figures in eight of Maryland’s 12 ACC games before the confrontation with Williams but has averaged 15.5 since. Two days after the Durham debacle, he scored 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting against Clemson. He followed that up by matching his then-career-high 16 points in leading a failed comeback attempt against 15th-ranked Wake Forest.

McCray shot 32.7 percent — including two of 21 3-pointers — in the seven games before getting into it with Williams. Since then he is shooting 53.8 percent and has made four of 12 3-pointers. Earlier, he would stop shooting if he missed his first few attempts.

“He is a different player right now,” Williams said after McCray scored a career-high 20 points against the Cavaliers. “He was one of those laid-back guys in high school — he could get shots off whenever he wanted to, that type of thing. That doesn’t work at this level. You have to play with energy. Chris has really stepped that up since the Duke game. He has turned on the energy.”

While the usually outgoing McCray was struggling, he said, he walked around campus like a “zombie” and wore headphones so no one would talk to him. McCray came to the Terps as a blue-chip recruit out of Prince George’s Fairmont Heights High School and was expected to become Maryland’s top offensive weapon just like previous shooting guards Juan Dixon and Drew Nicholas.

“[Maryland is] not used to [shooting] guards scoring five points and three points and just struggling like that.” McCray said. “I just basically took those losses on myself. … Now I am having fun and running around like I used to do. I am definitely shooting with more confidence.”

And considering the results with McCray, might Williams encourage more players to get in his face when he gets in theirs?

Well, maybe.

“The way I coach [meaning hotly], I don’t want you to just sit there,” said Williams, who is in his 15th season at his alma mater. “I know that. If a player doesn’t like it sometimes, I want them to get mad at me to the point where they will take it out on the court and get mad at the other team.”

So far, McCray is following instructions perfectly.

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