One year ago, if there had been such a thing as an all-disappointing college basketball team, Maryland's Albert King would have been one of the leading vote-getters. And he would have voted for himself for that team.
Today, Albert King is a first-team all-America, named by the Associated Press along with Joe Barry Carroll of Purdue, Mark Aguirre of De Paul, Kyle Macy of Kentucky and Darrell Griffith of Louisville.
Among those receiving honorable mention were Buck Williams of Maryland, Boo Bowers of American, John Duren and Craig Shelton of Georgetown, Hawkeye Whitney of De Matha High and N.C. State and James Tillman of Eastern High, Maryland and currently Eastern Kentucky.
What was the difference between King, the dissappointment of 1979, and King, the star of 1980?
"Confidence had a lot to do with it," King said yesterday. "I started out this year thinking I had to prove myself again that I was a good player. I had lost some confidence. This team helped me get it back."
King averaged 22 points and seven rebounds this season in leading Maryland to a 23-6 record and its first NCAA bid in five seasons.
While he was praising his teammates yesterday, others were still talking about his performance in last weekend's ACC tournament.
"I think he showed a lot of people just how good a player he really is," said Terrapin sophomore Williams.
"But we've known all along how good he is. When you win, people notice you."
King learned he had been named to the AP first team several days ago, so he was relatively calm yesterday. "It's my highest achievement, but winning the NCAAs or getting to the final four would be much better. I like to think of myself as a team player."
No one ever has accused King of being selfish. During his first two years at Maryland, the 6-foot-6 forward was criticized for not shooting enough, passing up good shots and not wanting the ball when the game was on the line.
That all changed this season.
"I had to find out how good I was all over again," King said. "I don't think it was any one game that got me going. It was a gradual process."
That process peaked at the ACC tournament. King dominated the three days, scoring 81 points, 38 in the semifinals against clemson and 27 in the classic finale against Duke.
But yesterday, King's mind was still on the two points he didn't score -- the final shot in the 73-72 loss to Duke that just wouldn't drop.
"The emotional part of the game is over," he said. "But I'm still thinking about the shot. I still think I could have taken a better shot. It still hurts but I know I have to put it behind me and concentrate on this Saturday."
This Saturday, the Terps will return to Greensboro, N.C., for a second-round NCAA game against the winner of Thursday's Tennessee-Furman game.
Perhaps it was North Carolina's Mike O'Koren, after King had burned him for 28 points in Chapel Hill, who best summed up the difference in King. h
"Last year when he had the ball he hesitated sometimes," O'Koren said. "Now when he gets the ball he's looking to shoot. Last year you could almost see question marks in his eyes. Not anymore."
As the season progressed, King became the Terps' on-court leader, giving directions to teammates, ordering them into offensive positions and yelling instructions on defense. And when games were close, even with excellent shooters like Greg Manning and Ernest Graham in the lineup, King wanted the ball.
"Anyone on our team could have taken the shots I took and probably made them," King said. "But it's nice that the team had confidence in me, that they wanted me to have the ball in those situations.
"When I get the ball down low I feel I can score with it most anytime," he said. "I like to play in there against guys bigger than I am, because I think I can get up with them . . . I also have a quickness advantage."
Because he has played so well this season there has been speculation that King might skip his senior year to turn pro.
"I have no thoughts about turning pro right now," he said. "I'm happy here and I've been happy with the season." But he would not categorically state that he will return to Maryland next year.
"Some players come into college with built-in confidence," King said. "I didn't. It took me a while to mature. Getting older has helped me. I'm more aware of my abilities now than I used to be. It's made me a better player."