Through the lean years, Terps' Shultz hung tough

THE BALTIMORE SUN

COLLEGE PARK -- He has seen the Maryland Terrapins hit bottom and has witnessed their sudden rise back among college basketball's elite. He will leave after this season as he came four years ago: with little notice, but plenty of appreciation.

When Kurtis Shultz comes out for his introduction during this year's Senior Day ceremony before today's final home home against Clemson, the 6-foot-6, 235-pound forward will likely get the kind of ovation usually given some of his more celebrated teammates.

"They came here when it was really tough," Maryland coach Gary Williams said yesterday of Shultz and fellow senior Wayne Bristol, the two remaining players from Williams' first freshman recruiting class. "I'm just glad they stayed all four years."

After being named co-captain of this year's Maryland team with Bristol, Shultz had high expectations for his final season. He knew he wasn't going to start, or even play a significant amount, but figured he would contribute.

But that hasn't happened. A foot injury -- Shultz suffered a stress fracture during the preseason and finally had surgery last month -- ended that dream. The recent development of freshman Rodney Elliott cut into what few playing minutes Shultz expected.

"Lately, I've been really frustrated," said Shultz, who returned to practice last week after last playing in late December. "If we were losing, it would still be hard. But because we're winning, I feel like I should be a part of it."

Though Shultz's list of career highlights is short, his memories are much more substantial. There were his six free throws against Clemson in the play-in game to the ACC tournament his freshman year. There was his steal that helped set up Duane Simpkins' winning shot in overtime against Georgetown in the 1993-94 season opener as a junior.

"We were watching the UMass-North Carolina game that night and it was kind of wild seeing myself on ESPN," Shultz said. "That was the only time other than being on the bench."

Said Williams: "Kurtis has made some big plays for us. People forget that steal. Georgetown had the ball. In that situation, he came into the game and certainly came through."

There were the other, less obvious moments that Shultz can smile about. The night the fans at Duke took a liking to Shultz and his spiked crew cut, chanting, "Ice Baby, Ice Baby" because they thought he reminded them of rapper Vanilla Ice.

And there were the other achievements that went virtually unrecognized, both on and off the court. The MVP trophy he took home with him to Randallstown from a tournament in Germany during a European summer tour of ACC players. The ACC academic honor roll to which he was named last year, when he had a 4.0 semester.

"You don't have to worry about Kurtis," said Williams. "I'm sure he still would rather be playing more. A guy can get upset about it, but not let people outside the team know. I don't want players to get complacent."

Shultz, who initially went to the Naval Academy but left after his plebe summer, doesn't second-guess his decision to come to Maryland. Nor does he wonder whether he should have transferred, as others in his recruiting class did when Williams started bringing in blue-chip talent. But they won't have a chance to contend for an Atlantic Coast Conference regular or tournament championship, as Maryland (21-5, 10-3) will in the next two weeks.

"After my sophomore year, when we were 2-14 in the conference, Wayne and I both talked about transferring," said Shultz. "But we made a commitment to Maryland and to Gary Williams. We knew they'd turn it around."

Asked about his limited playing time, Shultz is a realist. "Every game when I'm sitting on the bench, I wish I had more of a chance," said a player who has averaged less than six minutes a game. "But when you have guys like Keith Booth and Joe Smith in there, there's not a lot of minutes left. I had a chance to play my first two years, but we've recruited a lot of high school All-Americans."

His father, Dundalk High School athletic director Ron Shultz, isn't unhappy with his son's choice. Though as a parent he would have liked to have seen his son play more, as a former coach he understands the situation Williams was in.

"What would have happened had he gone to a Bucknell or a Colgate?" asked Ron Shultz. "He would have played more, but who can measure what you have gained academically, socially? It's been positive for him being around the ACC environment. Where are you going to get that?"

Kurtis Shultz will graduate in December, the timetable pushed back by changing majors from journalism to phys ed. He had given thought to using his extra year of eligibility to play football, but now plans on moving ahead with a career.

Yet his college basketball career isn't quite over. There are still more games, four in the regular season, then the postseason. He could have another opportunity to be a hero, like he did that long-ago night at the Charlotte Coliseum as a freshman or that afternoon at the USAir Arena last season.

Then again, he might not.

"If Coach calls on me, I'll be ready," he said."

Just as he was four years ago, when nobody seemed to want to come to Maryland.

NOTES: Former Terps star Walt Williams, a starter with the NBA's Sacramento Kings, will attend his first Maryland game since leaving College Park. He will be one of two honorary captains for today's game.

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