- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2005

A cheap shot unleashed the fury within Maryland forward Travis Garrison. The normally docile junior grabbed a loose ball and rose to the rim for a resounding dunk against Liberty. The crowd gasped at the rare moment when Garrison lived up to the high expectations.

And then it was gone. Garrison managed only eight points, along with a season-high 11 rebounds, against an undersized Liberty in Maryland’s 112-68 victory on Dec.28. One moment Garrison is proving why the position is called “power forward” and the next he’s playing more like an oversized guard.

It often has been that way over the past 21/2 years for the high school All-American from DeMatha. Make Garrison mad with rough play and he’ll bury one into the basket. Otherwise, he’s on the offensive edge with more 3-point attempts than dunks.

“Sometimes I find myself floating on the outside perimeter,” Garrison said. “Something [unsportsmanlike] that gets to me a lot gets energy going and makes me want to be more aggressive.”

It’s not easy for Garrison to have an alter ego on the court for No.22 Maryland (8-2), which faces Mount St. Mary’s (3-6) tonight at Comcast Center. He’s a nice guy away from the game. Intelligent and thoughtful, someone parents hope their daughter brings home.

Life under the rim is as physical as any football game, though. Terps forward Mike Grinnon recently lost his front tooth during practice from an errant elbow by center Hassan Fofana just days before the latter left the team. Garrison needs a swagger to match a 6-foot-8, 238-pound frame that has been noticeably strengthened after two offseasons in the weight room.

“On the court, I have to turn it up and be an animal,” he said. “I’m not comfortable with the way I’m playing. In the last game or two, I haven’t been playing with that much emotion like I was the end of last year. If you play hard with energy, the emotion comes. If you go out there lackadaisical, it’s hard to play with emotion. That’s what I have to work on.”

Several pregame routines have been tried, but Garrison’s body language during the national anthem often foretells his play. Garrison usually stands on the far left of the team during the song, with guards Chris McCray and John Gilchrist. If they look like trees in a tornado, the opening minutes will be intense. If they’re standing flat-footed, a dull start is probable.

Coach Gary Williams pulled Garrison aside during weekend practices to discuss his uneven start. He has scored in double figures five times, but also fouled out with more than nine minutes remaining against Florida State on Dec.19. Garrison scored just two points on three shots against George Mason on Dec.4.

The recent private conversations left Garrison believing his playing time isn’t guaranteed. Indeed, he was benched last year for seven straight games at midseason. Williams said Garrison is no more at risk of being benched than other starters, but Garrison has noticed the steady improvement by freshman forward James Gist. With ACC play resuming Saturday at No.3 North Carolina, the pressure to produce will intensify.

“[Williams] doesn’t think I play with a lot of emotion or I don’t play hard,” Garrison said. “I can agree with that. As I watch film, I see myself going through the motions. I’m playing well, but I’m not playing with emotion.”

Balancing Garrison’s on-court demeanor without altering his overall personality isn’t easy, though. The Terps don’t want Garrison to become an arrogant jerk; just play like one on the court.

“Everybody has their own personality,” Williams said. “I try to get guys to be a certain way on the court. You don’t want to change how they are off the court. Travis is a good guy. I like him a lot. But on the court, guys have to play hard. You don’t have to be demonstrative or say a lot. [Chest thumping] doesn’t mean a lot to me. It’s who gets the ball.”

Garrison isn’t a bad shooter away from the basket. His current .481 field-goal percentage is Garrison’s best over three seasons, and he’s made three of seven 3-pointers to average 10 points. The Terps aren’t saying Garrison (6.8 rebounds) should live on the backboard, but he has to spend more time converting offensive rebounds than fadeaway jumpers.

“With his touch, Travis is a very good shooter,” Williams said. “If he could just combine being more of an inside player with that outside touch, it’s a good package to have.”

Meanwhile, maybe opponents will unknowingly awaken Garrison into a power forward.

“I’d like to see somebody come out and give him a shot early in every game,” said Williams, jokingly.

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