Over the past two days, Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams has held a handful of short conversations with the Terrapins' reluctant superstar, junior forward Terence Morris. Knowing his slumping team needs Morris at his best, Williams said he has told Morris not to worry about what outsiders say and just try to enjoy playing.
Williams said he reminded Morris: "Just how good of a player he is. Don't worry about anything. Just play your game. He'll hear a lot of things--you should be doing this or you should be doing that. I told him just to be Terence Morris. Don't be something you're not."
Whether Williams's advice makes a difference will be seen tonight when the 24th-ranked Terrapins play Wake Forest at Cole Field House, seeking to break a three-game losing streak--their longest in three seasons. Maryland (11-5, 0-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) also will be seeking to avoid their first 0-4 start in ACC play since 1992-93, which also was the last season in which they failed to make the NCAA tournament.
"It's definitely important for us to get a couple wins," forward Danny Miller said. "Those three losses really hurt us. We can't afford to focus on the losses, though. There are a lot of games left."
Other players have struggled during the losing streak, but Morris's problems have been the most obvious. He did not score during the final 10 minutes of a 68-66 loss at North Carolina State on Jan. 6 and he had just three free throws during the final 13 minutes of a 69-68 loss at Georgia Tech this past Saturday.
Perhaps never before in Williams's 22 seasons as a head coach has his team's most talented player been so hesitant to grab the spotlight. Since the start of the season, Morris has not done any interviews with the media outside of postgame situations. On the court, the quiet, 6-foot-9 junior rarely tries to take control of games, even though he has the ability to do so. Still, he is averaging a team-leading 16.7 points per game.
"I just want him to enjoy the moment . . . kind of like Steve Francis really enjoyed the spotlight" last season, said Williams, who last week named Morris and senior walk-on Matt Hahn co-captains for the season. "Terence, I think, enjoyed last year where Steve got the spotlight and we had seniors. Now, all of a sudden, he gets picked ACC preseason player of the year, he gets picked preseason all-American. They are great honors.
"At times, he feels some pressure from that. And at times, the other teams, because we haven't shot the ball well from other positions, have been able to focus on him a little more than maybe they did last year."
Williams said he would like his inside players to be more aggressive than they were in the loss to Georgia Tech. Morris attempted only three free throws in that game, after he was fouled attempting a three-pointer in the closing minutes.
"We were a little tentative, I thought, taking the ball to the basket," Williams said. "If I'm an inside player and I know I can get fouled if I take it hard to the basket, then I should take it hard to the basket, not fade away, because then you don't get to the foul line."
Meanwhile, Wake Forest (11-5, 2-2) has been one of the nation's most unpredictable teams this season. The Demon Deacons have lost three of their past five games, including a 66-64 loss to Florida State in which they led by 18 points in the second half and a 76-56 loss to North Carolina State this past Sunday. But last week, Wake Forest beat No. 21 North Carolina, 66-57, as guard Robert O'Kelley scored all of his 18 points in the second half.
Terrapins Notes: Williams said that freshman forward Tahj Holden played well against Georgia Tech, despite fouling out in eight minutes, and that Holden likely will see significant playing time again tonight. . . . Redshirt freshman forward Calvin McCall had his lengthy, two-year-old dreadlocks cut before yesterday's practice. Said Williams, as he walked on to the court for practice and saw McCall: "Wow. I almost didn't recognize him."