It’s no trick, no optical illusion, no subterfuge. Travis Garrison really is developing into one of the Maryland basketball team’s fiercest interior players.
That might come as a surprise to those who know of Garrison’s exploits far from the basket as a 6-foot-8 pogo stick the last three seasons. Yet the senior is not only leading the 23rd-ranked Terrapins (5-1) in rebounding as he did a season ago, he is also eschewing outside shots to take advantage of scoring opportunities in the paint.
“Coach [Gary Williams] has been asking me to become a more complete player since my freshman year,” said Garrison, whose Terps meet No. 19 George Washington (4-0) tomorrow in the BB&T Classic at MCI Center. “It’s kind of sad it took until my senior year to buy into it. But I felt as though it was going to help the team more and help my game out a lot if I was more aggressive down low and work on my post moves.”
Garrison’s summer included regular morning workouts with Washington Wizards center Brendan Haywood and several trainers, all in an effort to make him stronger and to enhance his repertoire of moves in the paint. He was briefly slowed by arthroscopic left knee surgery in August, though he has shown no ill effects from the procedure.
Instead, Garrison began the season as a catalyst off the bench, providing inside muscle once starters James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe took a breather. He led the team in rebounding against Arkansas and Nicholls State, scored in double figures in three of the first five games and took only two 3-pointers.
Both Gist and Ibekwe were ailing with a stomach virus Wednesday, so Garrison stepped into the starting lineup for the first time this season. He delivered 18 points and 10 rebounds and also worked his way to the line for 10 foul shots as the Terps rallied past Minnesota.
“He’s very aggressive and when he’s aggressive and he plays hard, he’s a great player,” senior forward Nik Caner-Medley said. “That’s why he was an All-American in high school and that’s why he’s here.”
Ah, the All-American tag, one slapped on Garrison four years ago when he played in the McDonald’s All-America game after his senior year at DeMatha. It has followed Garrison throughout his career as he developed into a complementary player rather than the superstar some expected him to become.
It was probably a greater problem early in his career, when he averaged 4.0 points and 3.1 rebounds as a freshman. The stats improved to 7.8 rebounds and 5.2 rebounds as a sophomore, but Garrison’s affinity for the jump shot remained strong.
“I think that can be a good thing, but it can also be a curse where people think as a freshman you should be a great player because you’re a McDonald’s All-American,” Williams said. “Some guys adjust quickly to college, it takes them a week. Some guys it takes a year, two years. That’s OK. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad basketball player.”
Garrison developed a bit slower, though there has been steady improvement throughout his career. Last season, Garrison started 30 games and averaged double figures (10.1) for the first time, but he still didn’t possess a complete arsenal.
It has changed this autumn, so much so that Garrison said he doesn’t even look for his jump shot anymore. He is also more consistent in both practices and games, a tendency Williams praised yesterday.
Garrison has embraced his role off the bench, studying the first few minutes of each game to figure out what the Terps are not doing well and where he might be able to find shots upon entering. He would still like to start — who wouldn’t? — but Garrison’s career has been an education in both handling sometimes unrealistic expectations and making adjustments to try to meet them.
“When you’re a McDonald’s All-American, expectations are on a whole different level,” said Garrison, who is averaging 11.0 points and 6.8 rebounds. “You try in a way to reach those expectations, but you just have to play your game. It took me some time to develop my game at this level and I feel I’ve been progressing each year, maybe not in big leaps, but I think I have progressed a lot.”