COLLEGE PARK - As is the case with so many highly coveted high school recruits, life on the basketball court used to be a breeze for Maryland freshman Nik Caner-Medley.
A 6-foot-8 forward with the skills and quickness to complement his leaping ability, Caner-Medley basically ruled the state of Maine at Deering High School in Portland. During his final two seasons, Deering went 40-5 while losing back-to-back state championship games, and its premier player entertained packed gyms, scoring at least 44 points in five games.
"In Maine, I was kind of the whole show. It was a one-man thing. We didn't really have much of a team thing going on," said Caner-Medley, who finished his senior year by being named Player of the Year by the National High School Coaches Association and was a McDonald's All-America Team finalist.
"There's a lot more aspects to the game here," he added. "It's not just going out and running around. You have to rely on your teammates. This year has been one challenge after another."
Midway through his first year in Division I and nearly midway through his first go-round in the pressure-packed Atlantic Coast Conference, Caner-Medley has seen the basketball life from many sides.
He began the year on the bench behind 6-3 senior Calvin McCall, replaced him after four games, lost the starting spot after too much inconsistent play over nine games, and has come off the bench in the past four.
He has looked to take shots on some nights, and passed up too many good looks at the basket on others. He has dived after loose balls voraciously, and also been too passive.
At times, Caner-Medley has been a defensive stopper. In No. 10 Maryland's 75-60 victory over North Carolina State on Thursday, he denied Wolfpack star Julius Hodge the ball relentlessly and had a career-high five steals. At other times, he has been caught being a spectator.
In short, Caner-Medley has had a way of pleasing Terps coach Gary Williams and infuriating him. Sort of what a typical freshman does to most coaches.
"When Nik was in high school, he could turn it on whenever he had to. If he wanted to rest for 30 seconds, that was fine, because he could score six points in the next minute," Williams said. "Well, you can't do that here. You have to go hard on every play. ... That's been his biggest adjustment.
"Nik is more active now. He's getting pushed every day by good players in practice. That doesn't happen in high school. Let's face it. When you're that talented, you only have to play hard maybe four or five games a year. You have to do that every night here. And Nik is pretty good."
Good enough to be Mr. Basketball up north, although senior Tahj Holden said with a sarcastic grin, "But Nik is from Maine. Who plays up there?"
Caner-Medley is the first Maryland player from Maine since Joe Harrington, a former teammate of Williams' some 35 years ago. And the son of Janet Caner and Joe Medley is starting to carve out a steady slice of the Terps' 10-man rotation.
His education took a memorable turn on Jan. 15 at Wake Forest, where Caner-Medley looked intimidated in his first ACC road game. He scored four points early, but did not play defense or rebound with the passion Williams desired. Caner-Medley played just four minutes in the second half of an 81-72 loss, then lost his starting job.
"I think that [Wake] was good for Nik," Williams said. "You almost have to go through that before you understand."
Caner-Medley answered that challenge three days later by coming off the bench to hit two three-pointers early, helping the Terps reverse a 13-3 Duke lead. Maryland (13-4, 6-1) went on to knock off the top-ranked Blue Devils and has won every game since, while taking over first place in the ACC.
Even so, Caner-Medley played just two minutes in a 15-point victory at North Carolina. Three days later, his six rebounds helped the Terps win ugly at Clemson, 52-47, before he played his best all-around conference game against the Wolfpack.
"You start off just getting used to the little things - the speed of the game, the level of play," Caner-Medley said. "You get used to that, and the next challenge is to get ready to play against the higher-tier teams like Duke. Then you have to get used to playing on the road.
"You can only use being a freshman as an excuse for a game or two. You deal with the ups and downs. It's a learning experience."
Matchup:No. 10 Maryland (13-4) vs. Loyola (4-14)
Site:Comcast Center, College Park
TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Line:Maryland by 34