I had a chance to take in the first scrimmage of the basketball team on Saturday and came away impressed. This group has the potential to be one of the deepest teams that Gary Williams has had in a number of years. The returning veteran players also showed marked improvement over last season. It was clear that Greivis Vasquez and James Gist benefited from their international play over the summer. The pair were the best players on the floor by a wide margin and displayed a swagger in their play that you want in players that hold the fortunes of their team on their shoulders.
Gist didn't disappoint in his first public appearance since the Pan Am games over the summer. He finished with 23 points while playing a number of positions including small forward. He showed a wide variety of scoring moves with a slew of dunks, fade away jumpers in the lane, intermediate jumpers and 3-pointers. Many preseason magazines will claim that Brandon Costner of NC State is the most versatile big man in the ACC, but he doesn't nearly have the skill set of Gist. He looked confident and ready to take the mantle of leadership this year.
Greivis Vasquez didn't look like he missed a beat since Maryland season ended against Butler. He was the same swashbuckling and dynamic leader on the court that he was in March, all be it more mature and confident (if that is possible) with a summer of experience. It was almost as if last season Vasquez was too fearless to be concerned about how he would measure up in the fabled ACC and so he played with an abandon that sometimes rose to greatness. Vasquez showed the same court leadership and fiery demeanor that he showed last season during the scrimmage. His outside shooting still needs a little work and after the second 20 minute session ended, while others were talking with family and friends, he was on the court shooting 3-point shots. He will sometimes get too confident and force some passes that he shouldn't. There isn't much else to be critical about at this point. He caused havoc on the defense with his dribble penetrations and assists. He is equally adept at finishing and passing so he forces the defense to play both possibilities. He and Gist are two players that can really put pressure on defenses, something that none of the seniors were consistently capable of doing.
The other starters looked solid with Eric Hayes, Landon Milbourne and Bambale Osby all having nice moments. Hayes did what he normally does: he handled the ball well, distributed it to his teammates and knocked down the few shots he took. I think his defense has improved slightly and he is physically a little bigger than he was last year which will help when he goes in the lane. He doesn't shy away from mixing it up down low in the trees so that extra weight will help him finish. He and Vasquez have further developed their already good chemistry.
Landon Milbourne has tantalizing talent at small forward. He does athletic moves that will leave you gasping but also has a tendency to disappear in games. Early in the scrimmage he struggled but then came on strong in the 2nd period when the starters matched up with the bench. At times he was also matched up on defense against James Gist. It was a tough assignment but Milbourne held up better than you would have expected. Milbourne has some impressive potential on offense but he needs to start becoming more aggressive on offense instead of sitting back and letting the game come to him.
Bambale Osby is solidifying his hold on a starting position. He is still more of a scrapper and hustle guy. His physical talents, linebackeresque physique aside, won't wow any observers. He does all the dirty work down low and let's James Gist and others make the highlight reel. He may be a tad too short, a tad too slow and a tad too low in his vertical but his bulldog mentality makes up for some athletic shortcomings. He's been trying more face up jump shots which he can make but are probably not his strength. His lack of vertical extension on his jumper and shorter arms make it too easy to block, however if he picks his spots it may be effective. Most of his work should be within eight feet of the basket. Right now he is not being threatened by freshman Braxton Dupree.
Dupree will probably have a great career at Maryland but I think his time is not now. He has much more potential than Osby but isn't as polished. He is a space eater who can grab rebounds but needs a great deal of work in his touch around the basket. The truly great physical post players with Dupree's body type like Lonny Baxter, Sean May and Tyler Hansbrough all had great touch. He has good hands so it is likely that his feel around the rim will improve. He will get better but unless there is an injury or Osby implodes he isn't going to be a starter this season.
Adrian Bowie seems to have the inside track at being the first guard off the bench. Vasquez and Hayes will see lots of minutes but Maryland also needs a backcourt rotation. Bowie is a good ball handler and excellent slasher in transition. His shooting range isn't great but as a backup point guard he will be adequate this season. He has a quiet confidence that you like to see in freshmen. He is physical and solid for his height and defensively he can get up under taller guards and give them trouble. He could develop into a Johnny Rhodes kind of player for this Maryland team.
Shane Walker was seen as a throw in "project" for this club. His former high school coach was current Maryland assistant Chuck Driesell when he played at Ireton. A rangy 6-10 freshman, Walker is thin but not as painfully skinny as Ekene Ibekwe when he came to College Park. He has an excellent shooting touch for a big man with legitimate 3-point ability. He has long arms and will excel as a shot blocker because he possess a good feel for timing and tends to stay on his feet till the opponent commits to a shot. He may work his way into the rotation sooner than people think. He's not ready to carry a heavy load, as he needs some time in the dining hall and weight room to survive the rigors of ACC play, but he will be a contributor and valuable defensive specialist. The the end of the game his shot blocking and good shooting will be valuable.
Dino Gregory is a kid who won't get much notice but will play a great roll behind the scenes in practice. He's tough competitor who knows how to win, his high school team's record was 123-19 during his time there. He is active on defense and rebounding and seems to have a good grasp of positioning. He is a pretty good shooter inside 15 feet and can do some damage with his jump shot.
I think Cliff Tucker will also find a roll coming off the bench for this team. He is tall and lean with good ball skills and has a tough football born attitude. The level of play he saw in El Paso is many levels below what he is preparing for now and you can see he is overwhelmed by the speed of the college game at times. Once he gets his feet wet and his instincts get honed he'll be a valuable bench player.
I was a little disappointed with Jerome Burney. I thought he would be better prepared than many of the freshmen with his extra year of practice. He as a little too timid at first but then showed a few nice moves on offense towards the end, including a sweet little half hook in the lane. He needs to play with a little more confidence and let his physical ability speak for itself. It is almost like he's holding himself back. In the second scrimmage he grabbed 11 rebounds so maybe he is learning.
Overall the scrimmage was a little sloppy at first then got much better in the second period. Part of that was the defense. This group has the potential to be even better on defense than last year's squad that was one of the best in the nation. Players 6 through 10 are so much better as a group than the 2006 bench it isn't even a fair comparison. The depth on this team may be as good as it has been in years. Almost all of them are decent defenders and rebounders so that is an upgrade from the start. When the starters blitzed the freshmen to start the second period, partly due to a smothering press, they didn't give up and actually came back to win the half. After some recruiting miscues from 2003-5 the bench is in very good shape and will allow Gary Williams much more flexibility. He'll be able to scheme better than last season and throw out waves of players to wear out the opponents.
Notables who attended: 2008 recruits Sean Mosley and Gus Gilchrist, Maryland color commentator Chris Knoche, Walt Williams and local hoop tournament legend Charlie Weber.
Boom tries a turnaround jumper in the lane as Jerome Burney elevates for the block.
Greivis Vasquez, sporting some sweet red shoes, practices his jumper.
Dino Gregory shooting free throws during a break as Sean Mosley and Gus Gilchrist look on from the stands.
It's raining basketballs.