- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 31, 2006

Every day since returning from holiday break, the Maryland basketball team has tried to take the right steps.

More specifically, the Terrapins have worked to refine their offense, a process of perfecting cuts, screens and passes with the potential to pay off with a more efficient attack in the final three months of the season.

Maryland’s series of nonconference games, which includes a visit from Siena today, also represents a chance to improve the Terps’ understanding of the offense.

“We’re still working on our defense, but we’re fine-tuning our offense more so for ACC conference play,” forward James Gist said. “Right now, this is the time we get to practice on that stuff, and games like these we get to run our offense and get different looks.”

With school out of session until late next month and players back from holiday journeys home, practice becomes the only classroom for the Terps (12-2). Coach Gary Williams has put tape on the floor to show his team exactly what angles to take on cuts as he tries to solidify an offense already averaging 80.5 points.

The daily work is more than just ensuring players are in the right spot at the right time. There is an emphasis on decision-making and looking for scoring opportunities beyond the primary option, which did not occur as frequently as it should have the last two seasons.

“Once ACC play starts they’re going to start taking away the first look and the second look, so we have to be able to get to the third look of that play,” Gist said. “Once you get into conference play, teams know how you play.”

Nonconference opponents like the Saints (6-4) don’t possess the same year-in, year-out familiarity of a league foe but still can prove dangerous. Maryland has breezed through the first three of its five-game stretch before ACC play resumes, though, and blocked 15 shots in Thursday’s rout of Mount St. Mary’s.

The Terps hold a size advantage over Siena, though the Saints employ an impressive bruiser inside. Michael Haddix, a 6-foot-6 senior averaging 18.6 points, is part of a growing trend of bullish, undersized post players at mid-major schools thriving because of their nimbleness in the paint, court awareness and deft ability to play with their back to the basket.

“He’s a guy who you see a lot in college basketball now at the center position where he might not be the ‘80s [prototypical] 6-10, 6-11 guy, but he’s probably stronger than most guys who played back then,” Williams said. “He’s very talented at receiving the ball in a position to score. He might not jump over people, but he uses his intelligence to score.”

Meanwhile, Williams said freshman forward Jerome Burney likely will redshirt this season.

Burney fractured a bone in his left foot about two weeks before practice started and was not cleared to play until Nov. 12. Williams said Burney has practiced well, but he added that the prospect of Burney improving his strength and taking advantage of the five-year window to use four years of eligibility are appealing.

“He’s probably going to redshirt. There’s not a decision that’s been made yet,” Williams said. “When you sit out for five weeks and it’s your first five weeks and then [missing] conditioning in addition to not being on the court to pick up things, I don’t think it’s really fair.”

Burney also said he probably would redshirt, a scenario that became likely in recent weeks. Williams said this month he probably would make a decision on the redshirt during the Terps’ stretch of nonconference games, and he emptied the bench — except for Burney — in two of the last three games.

“Once I do come to play, I want to be ready,” said the 6-9 Burney, who weighs between 215 and 220 pounds and hopes to bulk up to 225 by next season. “I felt like I’m just helping out the team right now. I know I have two seniors ahead of me, and I can fill in for Will [Bowers] or even Ekene [Ibekwe] and get some playing time next year.”

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