Travis Garrison's favorite historical sight on the Terrapins' tour of Italy last summer was the Colosseum in Rome, where the gladiators fought. This should hearten Maryland fans, who have been waiting more than two years for signs that the 6'8", 243-pound junior power forward has a taste for battle.
Since he joined the Terps out of Maryland high school powerhouse DeMatha in 2002, Garrison has displayed a soft shooting touch and a maddening reluctance to bang in the post. Last year he averaged 7.8 points and 5.2 rebounds, but he shot just 85 free throws, 10 fewer than reserve guard D.J. Strawberry. Garrison's biggest shot of the year was not an inside power move, but an 18footer from the right wing with 18 seconds left in overtime to defeat No. 1 Florida in Gainesville. "Not too many guys his size at this level can shoot as well as he can," says assistant coach Keith Booth. "We don't want him to stop doing that." But now that 6'9" Jamar Smith, the second-leading rebounder in the ACC last season, has departed, the Terps need Garrison to play with more authority inside if they expect to exceed the accomplishments of last year's team, which won the conference tournament.
Garrison says his habitual drift to the outside hasn't stemmed from a fear of contact so much as from a lack of confidence in his low-post moves. "I wasn't much of a back-to-the-basket kind of guy in high school," he says. With the help of coach Gary Williams, who pulled Garrison from the starting lineup for seven games last year "to let him see a few things," and Booth, a ferocious rebounder for Maryland in the mid-1990s who has made Garrison watch videotapes of Karl Malone patiently working opponents in the low post, Garrison is gradually improving his inside game. In the ACC and the NCAA tournaments last year he averaged 12.4 points and 6.6 rebounds, and in three games against Italian pro teams this summer he improved those numbers to 16.4 points and 11.0 rebounds. "I think he is finally starting to realize how good he can be," says Booth.
The same can be said for the Terps. Last season's team, which included nine freshmen and sophomores, is now wiser and more ambitious. Last year players broke huddles by shouting, "Work hard!" This season they're yelling, "Champions!" --K.A.
2003--04 RECORD: 20--12 (7--9, 6th in ACC)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Syracuse in 2nd round
Gilchrist and Strawberry are backcourt blazers, and the Terps have a bevy of bigs who can fly.
ENEMY LINES an opposing coach's view
"They're really good in the half-court when you let them run their Flex set, but if you take them out of it, they can struggle with bad shots.... John Gilchrist won the ACC tournament for them last year, and he's always looking to score.... Nik Caner-Medley is aggressive to the hole and hard to cover because he's lefthanded. He may be their most productive inside player even though he's just 6'8".... D.J. Strawberry is their defensive stopper, and they count on him.... Because they're such a half-court team, I don't think their transition defense is as strong as it should be for their league."