- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2008

Braxton Dupree drifted to the abyss of the Maryland basketball team’s bench, sitting out one game after missing a class and making a one-minute cameo the next.

The opening-night starter vanished for three weeks, relegated to garbage time and little else before a promising five-point burst in Monday’s defeat of American.

“I was used to playing,” he said. “Right now, I’m earning my time back basically. It’s different for me. I have to accept it and keep working until I get back to where I was.”

Perhaps acceptance isn’t the right approach as the Terps (8-2) prepare to host Bryant (1-9) on Saturday. Before the season, Dupree was considered the most promising of Maryland’s untested big men, in part because of his improved conditioning and hulking frame. But playing time was usurped first by Dave Neal, then Dino Gregory, then (before he suffered a stress fracture in his right foot) Jerome Burney.

The five points against American were Dupree’s first this month. He demonstrated a glimmer of assertiveness in the first game after final exams, and Maryland would surely welcome more aggressiveness from the Baltimore native with the start of ACC play just a fortnight away.

“It was good for him,” guard Greivis Vasquez said. “He’s just got to be a tough guy. He has to realize there’s only four years in college. There’s no time for anything else. There’s no time [for] being sad and saying, ‘Mommy, I’m not playing. Daddy, I’m not playing.’ Get your butt on the court and work hard. Coach [Gary] Williams is always going to play the guy who works the hardest.”

Dupree conceded his early-season tumble was “tough” but said he can only do what Williams asks of him. Not doing so at this point would probably lead to a second straight year of diminishing returns.

The sophomore was a starter early last year as well but was reduced to an end-of-the-rotation role - and sometimes less than that - once the ACC schedule arrived. This season appeared to be on an identical trajectory, at least until Monday.

“The poor guy’s been hearing it: ‘How come you’re not playing?’ You get that all the time,” Williams said. “He had some positive things happen. I think that’s really good. I think that can be an incentive for him when practice begins again that ‘I did some good things, I belong on the court and hopefully I can play my way into some more minutes.’”

Dupree insisted that he hasn’t heard criticism from the outside, instead preferring to discuss things with those inside the locker room. But teammates could see his frustration as diminished playing time wore on him, and it’s clear there was an effort to prevent him from sinking into the doldrums just a month into the season.

For good reason. Maryland could still use a viable interior offensive presence who can work his way to the foul line. Neal’s skill set is better suited for facing the basket, Burney remains sidelined and the hardworking Gregory is a bit undersized at 6-foot-7.

That leaves Dupree, who could prove to be a critical element for the Terps - if he can build off Monday’s performance.

“It’s been a tough road for him early in the season, but I think with the environment that we have and the players we have, we’re all really close,” Neal said. “We’ve been pushing Braxton to stay positive because it’s a long season.”

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