Jordan Williams, Maryland basketball ready for first true challenge of the season

Maryland sophomore Jordan Williams is averaging 21 points and 13.7 rebounds for Maryland, which will meet No. 5 Pittsburgh on Thursday night in New York.
Maryland sophomore Jordan Williams is averaging 21 points and 13.7 rebounds for Maryland, which will meet No. 5 Pittsburgh on Thursday night in New York. (Toni L. Sandys/the Washington Post)
By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 18, 2010; 12:22 AM

Just about everything has gone Jordan Williams's way since the 2010-11 college basketball season tipped off.

In October, Maryland's 6-foot-10 sophomore forward was named to the preseason watch list for the Wooden Award. This week, he appeared on the Naismith Award watch list (both are awarded to the national player of the year). And after notching double-doubles in all three Terrapins games to date, he was named ACC player of the week for the first time in his career.

But Maryland's heralded big man faces a test of a higher order Thursday at Madison Square Garden, where the Terrapins will take on fifth-ranked Pittsburgh (also 3-0) in the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. On Friday, Maryland will play either 13th-ranked Illinois or Texas, which meet in Thursday's late game.

Pittsburgh, the Big East coaches' preseason pick to win the conference regular season, is the first team Maryland will play this season to boast a bigger, more seasoned front line. As such, the Panthers can be expected to double- and even triple-team team Williams, who leads the Terrapins in scoring (21 points per game) and rebounding (13.7 per game) and has had a seemingly effortless time so far doing everything except shooting free throws (62.5 percent).

Relishing the challenge, Williams said he's eager to be pushed by Pittsburgh's imposing front line, which is anchored by 6-11 center Gary McGhee, and confident he'll get all the help he needs from teammates such as 6-7 senior forward Dino Gregory and 6-8 sophomore forward James Padgett.

"In high school I was double- and triple-teamed every night, so I'm kind of used to the feeling and sensation of being surrounded by lot of different players," Williams said this week. "I'm definitely ready for it."

Williams, a native of Torrington, Conn., grew up following Big East basketball, with an uncle, Murray Williams, who played for Connecticut. But Thursday's game will mark the first time Williams - or any of the Terrapins - have played at Madison Square Garden.

Williams has set foot in the hallowed basketball venue just once, during a recruiting visit to St. John's, which plays its home games there. And even though it was set up for a concert rather than basketball, Williams recalled a palpable aura of tradition in the arena.

That's just one more source of motivation for the Maryland standout - along with playing against a ranked opponent, the chance to prove himself against Pittsburgh's towering front line and the spotlight of an ESPN2 broadcast.

"I've always played with a little chip on my shoulder," Williams said. "Coming out of high school, I wasn't recruited that heavily. I was always the type of person who was a question mark in scouts' books. There has always been something [skeptical] said about me somewhere: 'He can do this, but he can't do that.'

"The big question coming out of high school was, 'Yeah, he had his 38 [points] a game, but that's against people who are 6-2.' Every game is just a challenge for me to prove people wrong."

Toppling the nation's fifth-ranked team would be a tremendous achievement for the Terrapins, who lost their top three scorers and three-fifths of the starting lineup from last season. But a loss also can be instructive at this stage of the season.

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