- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 6, 2008

Landon Milbourne’s epiphany arrived in the form of a one-handed slam — a moment littered with style points, a cathartic release and a realization that life as an undersized power forward might not be all that bad.

In the offseason, the Maryland junior agreed to move from the wing, where he started a year ago, to power forward because, well, the Terrapins had little choice. They were loaded in the backcourt and might as well have posted a “Help Wanted” ad in the red paint at Comcast Center.

If Maryland were to field its best lineup, Milbourne’s willingness to shift inside was required. Whenever the question of Milbourne’s ability to hang in the post was broached, coach Gary Williams pointedly reversed the matchup and acknowledged Milbourne’s speed. Undoubtedly, he presented a similar argument to Milbourne for weeks.

Maybe all it took was one sequence late in Wednesday’s defeat of Michigan — a block on one end, a fast-break dunk at the other — for it all to sink in.

“Coach yells a lot, but if you listen to him, he really knows what he’s talking about,” Milbourne said. “When I’m in the game and trying to play defense and running around trying to get rebounds, all I can hear is him saying, ‘Run, run, Landon, run.’ It’s not really clicking at the time, but once I finally did run I got a dunk — so I can see what he was saying now.”

The Terps (5-2) certainly hope so entering Sunday’s meeting with George Washington (3-1) in the BB&T; Classic at Verizon Center. The first six games exposed plenty of concerns, minimal frontcourt scoring and spotty perimeter play among them. But one of the most unnerving was Milbourne’s struggles.

When Milbourne, who’s 6-foot-7 and 207 pounds, spent too much time in the post on defense, foul trouble was sure to follow. And while he was a capable scorer and outsider shooter last season, those skills remained in remission — especially during last week’s Old Spice Classic.

“He’s had a hard time learning the position and learning how to score from the post, but he’s shown he’s capable of doing it,” guard Eric Hayes said. “It’s just consistently score on the block and face guys up and use his quickness.”

The struggles led to some self-examination and plenty of film work this week. Milbourne ultimately wrapped his mind around an obvious problem: He’s not 6-9 and 230 pounds, and there are certain things men that large can do that Milbourne can’t. Dwelling on such matters is no way to decipher how to overcome such differences.

“It was pretty much in my head,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘I’m the [power forward]; I’m not going to be able to do this or that.’ Sometimes, when you listen to stuff like that, it gets to you.”

Perhaps his performance against Michigan snapped him out of his early-season doldrums. Milbourne scored 12 points against the Wolverines after managing 17 points in three games in the Old Spice Classic. He also avoided foul problems and provided 23 steady minutes — as well as one memorable, rim-rocking highlight.

“Players root for certain players, there’s no doubt about it,” Williams said. “As a coach you try not to, but you do. You root for certain guys to be successful. You’re fair, but you root for certain guys. For Landon, I think this was a very good step for him.”

Little by little, Milbourne is picking up the nuances of interior play. He knows he won’t overpower opponents, though his athleticism remains his greatest asset. And if the Terps are to break out of their BB&T; Classic slump — four straight losses in the event — Milbourne’s continued improvement at his new home will probably be necessary.

“I’m not one of those guys who’s going to catch it on the post and drop, step and dunk on somebody,” he said. “I had to figure out ways to try to bring that into my game. I figured it out - just run the floor, pretty much.”

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