Seniors Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes, Landon Milbourne form Maryland Terrapins' consistent core

Landon Milbourne: A team player, he's contributed in the front court even though the wing is his natural position.
Landon Milbourne: A team player, he's contributed in the front court even though the wing is his natural position. (Jonathan Newton - Washington Post)
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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 3, 2010

These days, each Eric Hayes shot looks almost identical to the next, Landon Milbourne understands how to subtly gain advantages over physically superior opponents and Greivis Vasquez abides by a measure of discretion.

The three seniors No. 22 Maryland will honor Wednesday night in their final game at Comcast Center did not necessarily arrive at their current dispositions smoothly, but their willingness to adapt on an individual level has allowed them to collectively lead the Terrapins to their current circumstance -- hosting No. 4 Duke with a chance to keep alive hopes of an ACC regular season title few thought was possible.

This season has been a departure of sorts for a Maryland squad that in recent years developed unpalatable tendencies, such as losing games to seemingly inferior foes and not being able to finish contests during which it mostly held the upper hand. The Terrapins have not been plagued by bad losses or costly giveaways. In the image of their senior leaders, they have remained steady, and consequently, steadily successful.

"Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes don't get the attention that Greivis does, and obviously Greivis deserves attention; he's having a great year," Coach Gary Williams said. "But I don't think teams are real good if leadership comes from one person. . . . Our leadership comes from a lot of ways, because leadership isn't always the guy that scores the most points. It's the people that really make you tough every day in practice, that allow you to go on somebody else's court and win a game, things like that. [The seniors] all have done great jobs in that area this year."

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Around 9 a.m. on Feb. 25, roughly 10 hours after a comeback win over Clemson, one of the best free throw shooters in Maryland team history sent his father -- a longtime high school basketball coach -- an inquisitive text message. Eric Hayes had missed consecutive free throws the previous night and wanted to root out the flaw in his form.

"You know, he's not accustomed to missing two in a row," Kendall Hayes said.

One of Eric Hayes's most identifiable traits on the court is his shot -- more specifically, his ability to create in onlookers a sense of déjà vu every time they see him release it. Hayes has made 40.3 percent of his three-point attempts in his career, which is fourth on Maryland's career list, and 86.6 percent of his free throws, which makes him the Terrapins' most accurate foul shooter of all time.

When Hayes was younger and still learning proper shooting form -- "L" shape on your shooting hand, use your left hand as a guide -- his father would lower the adjustable rim on their basket to eight feet so that his boy didn't form bad habits, such as pushing the ball up from the waist.

The attentiveness Hayes devotes to his shot has made him a reliable, if judicious, offensive threat. Though more assertive this season than last, Hayes remains reserved in his shot selection. He averages only 7.6 shot attempts per game despite shooting 45.5 percent from three-point range. That percentage would rank first in the ACC -- if Hayes had made enough shots to qualify.

"I think the natural tendency for everybody is to be resistant to change," Kendall Hayes said. "It's hard to do, for all of us. Change is not easy. You watch two guys shoot, and no two guys shoot the ball the same. It's amazing how many different strokes you see out there when you're watching guys in warmups. You do see a few each year that have a really patterned, good-looking stroke, and [Eric] just happens to be one of them.

"But I think that's in large part because he hasn't been resistant to change. And so many of us are."

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