WASHINGTON -- Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams was merrily rolling along, answering questions with a smile in the aftermath of the Terps' upset of second-ranked Kansas yesterday at MCI Center, and then someone asked about Terrell Stokes.
Williams started talking about his point guard, whose two free throws clinched the 86-83 victory, but then his chin started to quiver and he had to stop.
"That's the way it's supposed to work," Williams finally sputtered.
Then he shook his head in silence, his emotions almost overtaking him again.
Why was he near tears after one of the biggest wins in his nine years at Maryland?
"Ah," he said later, after the crowd of reporters had disappeared. "You see what these kids go through sometimes, you get emotional."
Stokes, a junior, had gone through plenty since committing two critical turnovers at the end of regulation in a game the Terps ultimately lost in overtime Thursday night at Clemson.
"All I heard for two days was, 'You have to get him out of there, you can't play him,' " Williams said. "I know Terrell was hearing it. It was all over the place."
Alumni, fans, insiders, reporters -- everyone, it seemed -- was jumping on the "Expel Terrell" bandwagon. Nasty messages even were posted on the Internet, according to one athletic department official.
Stokes didn't rebound with a brilliant performance yesterday -- he had six points and no assists in 24 minutes -- but Williams still put the ball in his hands at the end, calling for an in-bounds pass to go to him with 1.8 seconds left and the Terps up by a point.
Fouled after catching the ball, he sank the two free throws to put the Terps over the top.
"Good players make those," Stokes said with a smile in the locker room. "I'm glad I had the chance. The Clemson game was tough. I take responsibility for losing that game. That one was on me. And [the aftermath] was hard. But I put all that behind me today. We were playing a great team and it was time to move on."
Williams just shook his head when Stokes' comments were read to him.
"That's one of the toughest kids I've ever coached," Williams said. "Anyone who thinks I'm going to make a change [at point guard] doesn't know me. Terrell is our point guard and that's not going to change."
That's not to say Stokes isn't slumping, because he obviously is, with just four assists in the past three games. Recruited as a classic ball-distributing point guard, he is struggling to make even routine plays and establish himself as a decisive leader.
What's gone wrong? It's hard to say, although, as a former high school All-America teammate of current NBA star Rasheed Wallace, he may well have stars in his eyes that are blurring his vision.
In any case, Williams tried a new way of getting more out of him yesterday, reducing his playing time by some 20 percent, from 30 minutes to 24.
"I take the blame for what happened in Clemson," Williams said, "because I didn't take him out enough in the second half and he got tired at the end. That's my mistake.
"He didn't lose that game. It doesn't work that way. But by keeping him fresher this way, I think we can get the same production from him in less time."
Matt Kovarik and Sarunas Jasikevicius took over at times for him yesterday, and the overall results were terrific for the Terps, who dropped a stunning 54 points on the Jayhawks in the first 20 minutes.
Asked what he thought of Williams' new rotation at his position, Stokes stammered.
"Uh, well," he said, making obvious his displeasure.
But he did it with a smile, and, when pressed on the issue, didn't offer serious objections.
"I just like to play, that's all," he said. "I get mad when I have to come out."
He came to College Park from one of the roughest sections of inner-city Philadelphia, having barely survived a brutal adolescence during which he spent time at a court-adjudicated school after running afoul of the law.
Having managed to pull himself together and point his life in the right direction, he is more than able to take on any obstacles put in front of him at Maryland.
"I'm always going to be a huge Terrell Stokes booster," Williams said, "for the simple fact that he got to college in the first place. You have no idea what he had to overcome to get here. A lot of guys who come from where he did never even got to college."
It did seem that Stokes wasn't overly affected by the criticism heaped on him after Clemson.
"The point guard is always going to be the one who hears that stuff," he said. "It's not going to be the center. It's not going to be the shooting guard.
"Criticism is always going to be aimed at the point guard or the coach. I'm used to that. I can take that. I accept the blame for Clemson. But I'm not going to dwell on it."
He certainly didn't dwell on it yesterday, as the Jayhawks discovered at the worst possible time, with 1.8 seconds left and the game on the line.
Given a chance to redeem himself, Terrell Stokes didn't even flinch.
Pub Date: 12/08/97