- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2006

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Senior Sterling Ledbetter cannot think of an experience in his two seasons with the Maryland basketball team he doesn’t savor.

Except, that is, missing the NCAA tournament last year.

The senior guard hopes the Terrapins can rectify that problem next week when the 65-team event tips off. It would give him a taste of the postseason he wanted so badly when he transferred from Allegany College.

A good showing at the ACC tournament, where Maryland (18-11) played Georgia Tech last night in a first-round game that ended too late for this edition, would help Ledbetter’s dream come true.

Ledbetter entered the ACC tournament with modest averages in points (2.3), assists (1.9) and minutes (14.2) but with the same amount of wonder as his first day with the Terps. He grew up in nearby Laurel in a family filled with Maryland fans.

Ledbetter, though, was fond of the Kentucky teams that featured Wayne Turner and Scott Padgett in the late 1990s.

“I never actually thought I’d be playing for Maryland one day,” the 6-foot-4 Ledbetter said. “I kind of thought about it. You imagine things and say ‘Nah, that will probably never happen.’”

Ledbetter’s big-time hopes nearly vanished almost two years ago. Ledbetter, a highly regarded junior college recruit, was seriously injured in a car accident in May 2004 after falling asleep at the wheel in western Maryland. He dislocated his left hip, fractured his jaw, injured his left ankle and needed three months to fully recover.

Undeterred, Ledbetter rallied to earn time as a reserve with the Terps.

“It gave me more drive,” said Ledbetter, who also was slowed last year by a torn calf muscle. “It drove me to play harder and appreciate everything I had.”

Although he played in every game earlier this season, Ledbetter rarely was on the floor in meaningful minutes. That changed by necessity when senior guard Chris McCray was declared academically ineligible Jan. 23.

He struggled initially with the larger role, but has gradually become more efficient in his extended minutes. The guard has improved his defense, helping Maryland finish the regular season with victories over Miami and Virginia, two perimeter-oriented teams.

“He’s seen things get limited in terms of number of games left. He’d be the first guy to tell you he wasn’t playing as well as he could play earlier,” coach Gary Williams said. “We’ve talked about it, but at the same time you can talk about it all you want to a player. A player has to want to change some things. Sterling has really gotten more aggressive in practice, which has helped him in games.”

Ledbetter has helped the Terps in other ways, serving as an emotional sparkplug in tough times. He’s also acted as a sounding board for starting point guard D.J. Strawberry, offering advice during timeouts from what he gleans from the bench.

“When things are going wrong, he’s saying ‘We have to get up in their face and play D,’” Strawberry said. “Usually that would be me. Sometimes, I’m out on the court and I’m trying to figure things out. When you’re on the bench you can actually see what’s going on. Sometimes, he’ll come up to me and tells me different things I’m doing, how to get the team going.”

There won’t be many more chances for Ledbetter to help the Terps after this weekend.

Still, that postseason possibility remains for a player who has enjoyed everything else about his time in College Park.

“I wish I could rewind it,” Ledbetter said. “It was great here. I can’t really pinpoint one moment. Every day, just being with my teammates, school, classes, just the whole college experience. Playing here was a blessing.”

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