- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams took responsibility yesterday for senior guard Chris McCray’s academic ineligibility as the Terrapins began dealing with the latest problem to surface in an increasingly rocky season.

Williams repeatedly said it was a situation he never encountered in 28 years as a head coach. McCray, the Terps’ leading scorer (15.2 points), was declared ineligible Monday for failing to meet NCAA requirements.

“No one feels worse than Chris about the situation, but you beat yourself up as a coach that there was some way this could be avoided,” Williams said. “Like I said, I’m not used to this. I’ve coached in the ACC, Big East, Big Ten and never had this situation before. …

“As a college coach, you accept the fact that you’re responsible for your players. They may be 21-, 22-years-old, and in the real world that makes you responsible for your actions. As a college coach, you’re held responsible.”

Williams, whose No. 18 Terrapins (13-4, 3-2 ACC) visit Georgia Tech (9-7, 2-3) tonight, was kept apprised of McCray’s situation by the athletic department’s academic support unit and said “we knew it would be close.”

McCray’s departure deprives the Terps of their most consistent offensive player as well as a steady defensive presence. The senior scored in double figures in all but one of the 16 games he played (he sat out Maryland’s other game with a left ankle injury) this season, and the improvement in his perimeter defense the last two seasons helped make him the Terps’ best all-around player.

Junior Mike Jones, whose potent outside shot and impressive dunks have made him a fan favorite at Comcast Center, probably will slide into the starting lineup at shooting guard in place of McCray.

“I’d say that’s a pretty good shot,” Williams said.

There is little doubt Jones can be a productive offensive player. He leads the Terps in 3-pointers (27) and averaged 7.8 points in 18.3 minutes. However, defensive problems have held back the former McDonald’s high school All-American at times during his career.

The Terps’ reliance on reserve point guards Parrish Brown and Sterling Ledbetter also will increase. McCray provided relief for starter D.J. Strawberry at the point, though both Brown and Ledbetter gradually assumed greater roles in recent weeks. Both figure to receive more court time, particularly if Strawberry and Jones encounter foul trouble.

McCray’s ineligibility has the potential to derail a season that, despite some less-than-stellar performances, still appeared headed for the NCAA tournament after last year’s disappointing NIT appearance. The Terps were ranked No. 24 through Monday’s games according to collegerpi.com and sit a half-game out of second place in the ultrabalanced ACC.

Six players have led the Terps in scoring in a game this season, so the Terps haven’t needed offensive outbursts from McCray each game. However, his reliability and perimeter play will be sorely missed by a team whose depth and experience were perhaps its two greatest assets.

“You can’t let anything be an excuse for the way you play,” Williams said. “You have to just stay tough and try to play as well as you can.”

It also was the latest blow for Maryland’s much-maligned senior class, which arrived on campus months after the Terps’ 2002 national championship but has encountered trouble on and off the floor. Former point guard John Gilchrist left after last season after clashing with Williams and is playing in Israel, and forward Nik Caner-Medley was arrested for disorderly conduct in Maine in July 2004, though the misdemeanor charge was later dropped.

Forward Travis Garrison was charged with two misdemeanors stemming from an Oct. 27 incident at the Cornerstone Grill & Loft in College Park.

McCray’s recent history was spotty as well. He was charged with three misdemeanors in August and was listed as a witness in Garrison’s case even though Williams banned his players from College Park bars after McCray’s summer incident.

However, McCray’s ineligibility will have a far greater effect on the Terps’ season.

Williams acknowledged that even though there are several mechanisms designed to help players with schoolwork, such as tutors and a counselor who works exclusively with the basketball team, “it’s always a two-way street with academics.”

“You don’t expect that from seniors,” Williams said. “Obviously you’ve been here for three years, you know how the system works. At the same time, it can’t happen. We have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

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