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Profit shows Terps how to put team first


WASHINGTON -- See, they don't all grow up to be spoiled brats. They don't all commit their stats to memory, become me-first showboats, listen to friends who tell them how great they are, tell them to be selfish, tell them to prepare for the NBA.

Laron Profit, benched twice as a sophomore for breaking team rules, ignores such talk. He's a senior now, a senior threatened by the emergence of Steve Francis. He's a senior, and he wants to win, and he's smart enough to understand that everything else will take care of itself.

"The biggest detriment in a situation like this can be your friends," Profit was saying the other day. "My friends are like, 'Laron, Steve took 20 shots last night; you only took 14.' Steve's friends are like, 'Laron took 20 shots.' Obinna [Ekezie's] friends are like, 'Laron and Steve are getting all the shots.'

"Then you come to practice, and whoever gets across half-court with the ball shoots it. Some of the people you trust don't understand the situation going on with the team. You've got to shut all that out for six months. We're like a family. You have to treat it as such."

Profit knew that Francis would be an important new member of the Maryland family this season, one who might be good enough to help the Terps reach their first Final Four. He wanted to meet him. He wanted to play with him. He wanted to end any talk of possible friction, right there and then.

The chemistry that Profit initiated in the sweaty gyms of Washington's Kenner League last summer again was on display last night at the posh MCI Center, with Maryland improving to 10-0 by beating DePaul in the final of the BB&T; Classic, 92-75.

"I purposely went down there [to the Kenner League] this year," said Profit, who scored 15 points last night. "I knew I wanted to be on his team. I wanted to make sure everyone knew that there was no competition between Steve Francis and Laron Profit, before it even got started."

"It made us realize, Steve's cool, Laron's cool. We can play together. No controversy. I'm not trying to outdo him. He's not trying to outdo me. If we're trying to outdo each other, it's in a competitive way."

Francis' goal was more basic.

He just wanted to grow comfortable with his new teammate.

"We knew we were going to be the '2' [shooting guard] and '3' [small forward]," Francis said. "We really had a lot of stuff to work on, as far as knowing each other, knowing when to lob, when to skip the ball. It was important. It helped us get a jump-start on the season."

The bottom line is, Francis makes everyone better, and Profit knows it. From junior high to the NBA, old-school coaches lament the new breed of players. The Terps are refreshing not only because they're so talented, but also because they're a team.

At least one NBA scout believes that Francis will be the No. 1 pick in the next draft, but the newcomer listens to coach Gary Williams and plays within the system. Profit is a senior with his own NBA aspirations, but he, too, puts team goals first.

There's an old saying: You can lead, follow or get out of the way. Profit is leading by getting out of the way. Oh, he scored a game-high 23 points against Pitt, added 16 against Wake Forest, hit the free throw that sealed the victory over Stanford. But off the court, his contributions might be even greater.

The potential for disruption in College Park this season is enormous. Here are Profit, Ekezie and Terrell Stokes, seniors who waited four years to assume team leadership. And here's Francis, a junior-college transfer who might be at Maryland only one season, almost certain to eclipse them all.

He isn't a threat to Ekezie in the post, but he's a clear threat to Stokes at the point and perhaps an even bigger threat to Profit on the wing. This was going to be the season when Profit found his shot and cemented his NBA chances. He probably stands to lose the most.

"Laron has done a great job of really realizing what's important -- to get the individual attention, you have to win," Williams said. "He has great individual ability, but it looks like he's working to be one of the key pieces, not trying to be the piece. That's what he's given to the team. If he's willing to do that as a senior, then it becomes very easy for Francis and Terence Morris to do that."

As a freshman, Profit saw the other side, the difficulty that teams face when they're distracted by "outside influences" -- friends, agents, you name it. The 1995-96 Terps featured four seniors who remained from the Joe Smith era. They lost to Santa Clara in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

"That team let the outside world determine a lot," Profit said. "It got caught up in the hype of Joe Smith leaving. Everyone took it upon themselves to say, 'I'm going to fill Joe Smith's shoes.' It became kind of a war against each other."

Only one senior distinguished himself, and he became Profit's role model. Johnny Rhodes, Maryland's all-time steals leader, was the kind of player who showed up all over a box score. "He didn't get caught up in how many points he had," Profit said. "If you had 10 guys in the gym, he would find a way to win."

That essentially is Profit's mind-set this season, even with NBA scouts flocking to see Maryland play. He needs to improve his jump shot, both for the Terps and his pro chances. But he was first-team preseason All-ACC. He was MVP of the Puerto Rico Shootout. He's going to get noticed with this team.

When reporters ask him about the NBA, Profit says: "If you can play, people know you can play. You end up where you're supposed to be." When friends tell him he should score 25 points per game, he replies, "When was the last time the player of the year won the national title?"

See, they don't all grow up to be spoiled brats. Sometimes, they grow up to understand what this game is all about. Sometimes, they grow up just fine.

Pub Date: 12/08/98

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