- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2008

A crowd gathered around Jerome Burney in the locker room amid the typical frantic aftermath of Maryland’s road game Saturday, curious to listen to a player mostly ignored by reporters the last two seasons.

There was a newness to the experience for Burney, who found himself learning postgame interview protocol on the fly as the scramble to proceed to the team bus swirled around him.

“Rome,” assistant recruiting coordinator Robert Ehsan soon urged, “change while you talk.”

Burney will know better tonight when Maryland (17-11, 7-6 ACC) visits Wake Forest (16-9, 6-6) in a game with NCAA tournament implications for both. And he’ll do so as a likely spark off the bench after playing 12 quality minutes (four points, five rebounds) in the loss at Miami.

It was the first time Burney saw the court since Jan. 2 and the redshirt freshman’s first appearance in a conference game in two seasons with the Terps.

With Maryland struggling to get production out of its frontcourt reserves, coach Gary Williams approached Burney after last week’s loss to Virginia Tech and said he could receive a chance at Miami if he continued rebounding and blocking shots in practice.

It translated into the game, during which Burney capped the first half with a dunk and finished with three offensive rebounds — enough of an impact to force Miami to eventually use two players to box him out.

“Actually, I didn’t feel any pressure,” said Burney, who was redshirted last season after a broken bone in his left foot in the preseason hampered his development. “It already happened to me once. It was the second time, so [I thought], ‘Don’t put too much on yourself.’ ”

That first opportunity came Nov. 28 against Illinois, when he had four points, two rebounds and two blocks in 10 minutes. But even though he fell into disuse in the coming months, he still left an impression because of the explosiveness of his 6-foot-9, 222-pound frame.

Coupled with Saturday’s game, the stint begs an obvious question: Where has this guy been all season?

“If you think back to when we played Illinois, Rome came in and did the same exact thing,” forward James Gist said. “He had key rebounds, had the putback dunks, had some nice blocks. That’s the type of guy Rome is. You’re not going to go out there and expect Rome to have 20 points, but Rome will do the intangibles.”

That seemed apparent to many of the message board denizens who wondered loudly why coaches banished Burney to the furthest reaches of the bench. But Williams stressed earlier this season that he sought day-to-day consistency from Burney.

Apparently, he has received it at a time when backup big men Braxton Dupree, Dave Neal and Shane Walker have struggled to produce.

“I think he can help us,” Williams said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. I was pleased with his effort. He’s stepped it up a couple weeks ago and started to play better. I’ll play him. I always tell the team you earn your playing time in practice, and that’s what he’s done.”

Burney’s emergence hasn’t surprised Gist, who has helped the Atlanta native over the last two seasons. Last month Gist gushed about Burney’s athleticism, and Burney looks the part.

Saturday showed he could play it, too, even after admittedly growing frustrated while knowing he needed to wait his turn to play. Others noticed, too; shortly after the game, his brother called to tell him one fan message board dubbed him “Energizer Burney.”

“He could not play the whole season, but if you called on him the last five minutes of an important game, he’ll get out there and do what he need to do,” Gist said. “It’s always important to have a guy like that.”

Burney could provide a jolt for the Terps in place of Gist and Bambale Osby in the final stretch of the season. In turn, Saturday’s game could be just the performance to invigorate Burney.

“I guess I feel more optimistic about certain things and about possibilities in the future,” Burney said.

And that, like his newfound postgame attention, is something Burney would gladly see continue.

Today’s game

MARYLAND (17-11, 7-6 ACC) AT WAKE FOREST (16-9, 6-6)

When: 8 p.m.

Where: Joel Coliseum, Winston-Salem, N.C.

TV/radio: Chs. 20, 54, FM-106.7, AM-1300, FM-105.7

Outlook: Maryland leads series 60-54 and won 71-64 at Comcast Center on Jan. 15. The Terrapins have lost consecutive games for the first time since before Christmas and visit one of the nastiest home courts in the ACC. The Demon Deacons have won 18 of their last 19 games at Joel, including victories over Miami and Duke in the last month. Freshman James Johnson averages 15.1 points for Wake, while sophomore point guard Ish Smith (8.5 ppg, 4.8 apg) has started 55 of 56 games in his career.

Patrick Stevens

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