Injury has Ekezie down, but far from out; Maryland's senior center 'not devastated,' looking forward to NBA career; Terps/ACC notebook


COLLEGE PARK -- Keep the cards and letters coming.

Recuperating senior Maryland center Obinna Ekezie said yesterday that he loves every one of them and appreciates all the kindness fans have shown him.

"But don't feel sorry for me," said Ekezie, whose collegiate basketball career ended 10 days ago when he tore his right Achilles' tendon in practice.

"I'm disappointed but not devastated like many people thought I'd be," said Ekezie, who spoke to the media yesterday for the first time since the injury. "They don't understand. I haven't been playing basketball that long and I'm very thrilled for the opportunity to become a good player and showcase my talent. I know I'll get another chance to play [pro basketball] and I'll come back 100 percent by the end of October."

Ekezie came to Maryland as something of a project, after spending most of his time as a youngster playing soccer in Nigeria.

Now he has to sit back and watch the most important part of the season, but he insists he will not be wondering what might have been.

"It's not the end of my life," said Ekezie. "I have a good academic background in business and engineering and plan to play at a high level of basketball again. I want to play in the NBA."

Ekezie said there is one major disadvantage to not playing the rest of the season.

"The guys who are out there playing can change their status for the better in the NBA draft," said the 6-foot-10, 262-pound player who started 105 games in his career but didn't start what proved to be his last game. "I have no control over that now. The scouting reports say I'm a first-rounder. I can control that by coming back and playing at the same level I'm playing now."

Ekezie said that former Maryland standout Jerrod Mustaf, who played for the Phoenix Suns for three years, has offered to help him with his future pro career.

"Other Maryland alumni who have played in the NBA have also said they would help but I haven't talked to them yet," said Ekezie, who walked into the press room on crutches yesterday.

"I'll be able to walk with a boot cast Monday and that's when I'll start going to classes again and traveling with the team," he said.

In keeping with his upbeat mood, Ekezie said he holds no hard feelings toward coach Gary Williams for benching him in his final college game.

"It wasn't anything personal on his part," said Ekezie. "We were in a down period and he just wanted to shake up the team. It was just a one-game thing and he knew I had the personality to accept it."

Top 10 streak

Maryland has been ranked in the Top 10 for 15 consecutive weeks and is closing in on the school record of 19 straight Top 10 appearances by the 1974-75 team.

In that record season, the Terps were ranked in the Top 10 from the preseason poll through the season-ending April 5 rankings.

Is Duke now unbeatable?

Wake Forest coach Dave Odom said this week, "Duke is not unbeatable. I know Mike [Krzyzewski] wouldn't say it, so I won't, either."

Duke is 14-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference after blitzing Florida State, 85-59, Wednesday night in Tallahassee.

Many league coaches are shaking their heads over the way the Blue Devils are crushing league teams on the road.

"In my mind, it's hard to believe there is a better team than Duke in the country. Their only weakness is free-throw shooting," said Odom.

Gillen admits jealousy

Virginia's Pete Gillen conceded this week he was always jealous in the past of the ACC getting from four to six teams in the NCAA tournament from 1980 to last season.

"When I was at Xavier and Providence, I was jealous and envious all the time that the ACC was getting all those teams," said Gillen. "As a detached observer, I thought it was unfair. Now that I'm in the league, I can understand it."

Pub Date: 2/19/99

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