By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 13, 2006
The Maryland men's basketball team will be led by its seniors but could be motivated largely by its five newcomers.
Freshman Greivis Vasquez, who will compete for starting point guard duties, said the newcomers have been intent on sending the upperclassmen an "indirect" message about the level of enthusiasm needed this season.
"We come in with a different attitude," said Vasquez, a native of Venezuela who teammates say carries a positive "international swagger." The freshmen "are all here two hours before practice working out or shooting. Our main goal is to change this here to make people see Maryland differently."
There were no brash declarations about the season during Maryland's media day yesterday. Instead, players and Coach Gary Williams focused on characteristics they felt were lacking the last two seasons: discipline, defense and synergy.
Williams said some members of the past two teams, both of which missed the NCAA tournament, were reserved, less passionate players. The new crop, he said, brings an energy that stems from enjoying playing the game.
"I think it's a good thing not to lack confidence," said freshman Eric Hayes, who will also compete for the starting point guard position. "We're trying to get some enthusiasm in here to get back to the tournament."
It is also a fresh start in many ways for senior D.J. Strawberry, who changed his jersey number to No. 2 to forget about the disappointments of the past two years. Strawberry, who Williams said is one of the nation's best guards, could excel because he will be relieved of the bulk of his point guard responsibilities with Vasquez and Hayes available.
Even as freshmen, Strawberry said, Vasquez and Hayes are more ready to play point guard in the ACC than he was last season, when he struggled at times to run the offense. Another player who will figure prominently into Williams's plans for his back court is Mike Jones, a senior sharpshooter whose biggest question marks have always been defense and ballhandling. Given his roster configuration, Williams said he has been toying with the idea of playing as many as four guards at a once, much like Villanova did last season.
Williams's emphasis, however, is a defense that he felt played as poorly last season as any he has had in 17 seasons in College Park. The Terps ranked last in the ACC in points allowed and were particularly vulnerable against good three-point shooting teams.
As far as team goals, Williams first said players intend to be "really good citizens" and work hard in the classroom. That sentiment comes after a season in which two players were arrested and co-captain Chris McCray was ruled academically ineligible at midseason.
On the court, Williams said, "We have to prove we are a good team."
Note: Selection Sunday is more than five months away, but Williams has already begun lobbying for NCAA tournament berths, saying that the ACC deserves six or seven.