COLLEGE PARK -- He is a work in progress. He is difficult to figure, head-scratching one moment, jaw-dropping the next. There are stretches when he disappears from games, then seemingly out of nowhere, dominates them.
It is often frustrating to watch Maryland guard Laron Profit, not only for Terrapins fans who see his burgeoning stardom, but for his teammates and coaches as well. Even his mother gets a little anxious waiting for him to get into the flow of a game.
"I get on him all the time," said sophomore point guard Terrell Stokes, who has roomed with Profit since they arrived together last season. "Laron's got to get hungry. He's got to go after it harder. I tell him, 'Don't wait for the game to come to you.' "
Said Maryland coach Gary Williams: "I think because of the way he plays, you expect to see great things all the time. What people forget is that he's only a sophomore and this is his first year playing a prominent role. Sometimes it's hard to be patient waiting for a player like Laron to mature."
What has been a remarkable season so far for the fifth-ranked, 17-3 Terrapins has already produced several memorable moments, many of them created by Profit. They have come in varying forms, from high-wire dunks to clutch three-point shots to playing defense against more high-profile opponents.
There were the two alley-oop dunks Profit threw down in Sunday's 74-70 win at home against Duke. There were the 11 points in the last five minutes of Maryland's record-setting comeback victory at North Carolina earlier this month. There was the way he shut down Georgia Tech All-America Matt Harpring.
But the play that transcends the others came against Wake Forest. The No. 2 Demon Deacons will remember it when they come to College Park tomorrow, trying to avenge Maryland's 54-51 victory and Profit's winning three-pointer Jan. 19 in Winston-Salem, N.C.
"I don't have to make a spectacular play every game," said Profit. "My whole agenda is to win. I don't feel as though scoring should be the only measure of how a player is judged."
But Profit understands those who think he should be more assertive, that he shouldn't spend the first five minutes of seemingly every game trying to get into a rhythm. And he knows that some might be perplexed when he starts well, as he did in Wednesday's 74-70 loss at Florida State, then doesn't do much the rest of the night.
Profit scored two of Maryland's first three baskets, a lob dunk off the opening tip on a pass from Keith Booth. He hit a three-pointer a short time later, then didn't attempt a shot the rest of the half. Those five points turned out to be the only ones he scored. He also finished with six rebounds and seven turnovers in 32 minutes.
"I just let things happen," he said last week. "I don't try to force too much. If tonight is not my night, then it will be somebody else's."
Profit's mother, Bernetta Truiett, says that her son's on-court persona is an extension of his off-court personality and that he allows others, in particular Booth, to take first crack at the spotlight. But even she gets a little testy at what some perceive as Profit's being too laid-back.
"There are times when I'm sitting there, saying, 'What is he doing? What's the problem? C'mon Laron, play ball,' " Truiett said this week. "He likes a challenge. The more pressure, the more he's going to step up. He won't do something until he has to."
The tease came last season. After barely playing the first two months, a combination of Williams' frustration with Exree Hipp's lack of productivity and Profit's obvious skills made it hard to keep the 6-foot-6, 195-pound freshman on the bench. Once Profit got on the court, it was difficult to get him off.
Over the last 10 games of the season, his playing time nearly doubled from a little over 10 minutes to a little under 20 minutes; his scoring average went from 3.6 to 9.2 and his shooting percentage went from 42.5 to 52.3. Included in that stretch was a 22-point (8-for-9 shooting) performance against Florida State and 19-point (5-for-7) game against Duke in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament.
"It was tremendously tough," Profit said of his freshman year. "I tried to take things in stride. It helped that Terrell was going through it, too. But I knew my time would come."
The adjustments this season are different. Instead of waiting for his chance, Profit is now trying to find a consistent level to his game. He often plays in bursts, and his confidence seems to fluctuate with his jump shot. The North Carolina game was an example of how Profit's productivity, and Maryland's fortunes, can swiftly change within minutes.
After missing all seven shots he took in the first half, Profit was pulled early in the second half when he failed to box out on the defensive boards. The Terrapins were about to fall behind by 22 points. Though Maryland had nearly caught the Tar Heels in his 11-minute absence, a fresh Profit helped put away North Carolina.
"Laron gives us another way to go, he can score when our offense breaks down," said Williams.
It was Profit's quick slashing style and his ability to create his own shot that first attracted Williams. Not that Maryland had a lot of big-time competition in recruiting Profit, since he didn't get much attention at little Caesar Rodney High in Camden, Del. What also turned off some coaches was Profit's penchant for trash-talking.
But Profit's reputation belied the other side to his personality. He was an honor student who scored over 1,000 on his college boards on his first try. He was well-traveled, having grown up following his mother and stepfather, James Truiett, to Air Force bases in Albuquerque N.M., Dover, Del. and Panama.
Of all the places Profit lived, he considers Charleston, S.C., home and now lists it as his home town when introduced in Maryland's starting lineup.
One adjustment Profit is still going through is playing for Williams. Though he played for a demanding coach in high school, Williams is at another level both in terms of expectations and expletives. The frustration Williams sometimes directs at Profit comes mostly in knowing how talented a player Profit can be.
Jeff Savage, Profit's high school coach, understands the feeling.
"In high school, he only had to play hard about five times a year," Savage said yesterday. "People have to remember one word when it comes to Laron -- patience. Laron's always had a tendency to drift a little in and out of games. When it all clicks, he's going to be a terrific player."
Said Stokes: "Laron can be a great player. If he ever played hard for 40 minutes, it would be scary."
But for now he remains a work in progress, head-scratching one moment, jaw-dropping the next.
Profit's ups and downs
Now you see him
Opp. ............ Pts. .. Skinny
Cal ............. 24 .... 10-for-14 shooting, 4-for-5 on three-pointers, 5
................. ....... rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers
Georgia Tech .... 18 .... 7-for-8 shooting, 2-for-3 on three-pointers,
................. ....... 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 turnovers
Duke ............ 16 .... 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 turnovers
N.C. State ...... 15 .... 7-for-9 shooting
now you don't
GW ............... 4 .... 2-for-6 shooting, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers
Penn ............. 4 .... 1-for-4 shooting, 1 rebound, 4 assists, 3 turnovers
Florida State .... 5 .... 2-for-4 shooting, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 7 turnovers
Towson State ..... 6 .... 3-for-6 shooting, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 turnovers
Statistics at Maryland:
Season .... Pts .. Reb. .. Ast. .. TO .. Stl. .. FG% .. FT% .... 3p%
1995-96 ... 5.7 .. 2.7 ... 1.2 .. 2.1 .. 1.5 .. 48.2 .. 75.6 .. 36.4
1996-97 .. 12.1 .. 5.1 ... 2.5 .. 2.8 .. 2.2 .. 46.8 .. 58.3 .. 32.2