COLLEGE PARK -- Hipp Van Winkle had to awaken eventually. But after a season-long slumber, you'd think he might have waited to play two good games before complaining about playing time.
No such luck.
Exree Hipp didn't climb out of bed yawning and stretching, saying he was happy to be back. He leaped out of bed like the Ex-man of old, wondering how Maryland coach Gary Williams could dare hold him down.
"If I'm playing for four minutes at a time in a stretch, I can never get into a groove," Hipp said yesterday after Maryland's 88-74 victory over Georgia Tech. "No great player you see play for four minutes, come back and sit for nine minutes, come back in dry and just expect him to turn it on."
No great player.
Ex really said it.
As if he were Joe Smith, or even Laron Profit.
Whatever, he had his best game of the season yesterday, and perhaps it was no coincidence that Maryland did, too. It would
be nice if he slashed to the basket, chased down loose balls and made brilliant passes every game. But Williams said Hipp still isn't in good enough condition to get extended playing time.
That's a stunning indictment, seeing as how the calendar reads February, but Williams will take what he can get. Yesterday, Hipp gave him 15 points, three assists and three rebounds in 20 minutes. Williams was so happy, he didn't even take exception to Hipp's brash post-game comments.
"It's hard when it's you or your son to be rational," Williams said. "As a coach, you get paid to make tough decisions, which might not be popular with an individual. At the same time, if it's best for the team, what do you do? You do what's best for the team."
What's best for the team, even after yesterday, might be less Ex. Freshmen Terrell Stokes (11 points) and Profit (nine points) deserve more playing time. Frankly, Hipp should thank Williams for sticking him with so long, and savor every minute he gets the rest of his senior year.
Of course, Hipp doesn't see it that way, even though he missed the Terps' September running program with a knee injury, sat out 12 days in November with an ankle problem, and started the season in an overweight daze.
He wants more minutes?
Let him force the issue.
Make him play like he did yesterday.
Hipp scored nine points in a span of 2:24 early in the first half, including a three-pointer and alley-oop jam from Duane Simpkins. He also was pivotal as Maryland broke the game open early in the second half, following his own shots, even clapping his hands to demand the ball.
Yet, Williams sat him for nearly five minutes after his electrifying alley-oop, and nearly 10 minutes after his second-half spurt. Part that had to with Profit, who scored all nine of his points after intermission. But Simpkins said, "We've just got to leave him in there, let him play, let him keep the team encouraged."
That is, if he's in shape.
"Right now Ex can play a hard 20 minutes," Williams said. "Maybe three weeks ago he could play 10. He's gradually getting there."
Hipp didn't want to hear it.
He bristled at the notion that his conditioning was still a problem.
"Do I look tired?" he said. "I didn't break a sweat on the court in the second half. I thought I could have gone a little bit more, honestly about 31 or 32 minutes."
"Fine," Williams replied. "Maybe he'll get his chance."
The Terps need Hipp, who had scored only 16 points in his previous four games. They've won four of their past five in the ACC to get back to .500 in the conference. They've got another huge game at North Carolina on Tuesday. With the freshmen playing so well, a resurgence by Hipp might actually make them dangerous.
Earlier this season, Williams said that seniors often experience "some disillusionment" once they recognize they might not reach the NBA. Hipp probably had such a letdown, but perhaps now he has a better grasp on his future. "There's life after basketball," he acknowledged yesterday.
That said, he might as well turn it loose -- even if it means taking on a defiant attitude. The fans and media are fickle ("Some guy yelled from the stands today, 'Put Ex in,' " Williams said. "That was the same guy yelling, 'Take Ex out.' ") Hipp should play for his own pride.
"I don't feed off the crowd like I used to," he said. "They're with you when you're going good. They're not with you when you're going bad. I talked to Johnny Rhodes. He told me to put the crowd out of the game, just talk to yourself."
Williams doesn't care.
"This is a shock to Ex," he said. "He was always the type of player who could do amazing things physically. That went away this fall. Now, he's had to really battle to get it back.
"You talk about being a college basketball player. That's part of the deal. You learn things about yourself. It's not always going to be automatic after you leave college. Certain things happen that you don't like.
"There was awhile there I wasn't sure if he was going to fight to get it back. But he fought. And I'll tell you what, he came out today, and was very close to what we saw last year, and the year before."
His beef about playing time?
Don't hold it against Hipp Van Winkle.
0$ At least now we know he's awake.