COLLEGE PARK - A season already rife with adversity got a little more difficult for the University of Maryland basketball team yesterday when it was determined that sophomore guard D.J. Strawberry will miss the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Strawberry, the Terps' best defender, was injured in practice Monday, and the team's medical staff determined the severity of the injury late Tuesday. According to trainer J.J. Bush, Strawberry will have surgery once the swelling subsides and is expected to require six months of recovery time.
"We will miss D.J.'s aggressiveness and experience," Maryland coach Gary Williams said in a statement. "D.J. is an outstanding team player. He is willing to do the little things that do not always show up on the stat sheet."
Strawberry started three games this season for the Terps and was averaging just 7.1 points a contest, but his versatility has made him one of Maryland's most valuable players the past two seasons.
The first man off the bench each night, Strawberry served as the backup to point guard John Gilchrist and shooting guard Chris McCray. He also had played some at small forward this season, but his absence may be felt the most when Maryland applies full-court defensive pressure. Strawberry's long arms and quickness helped him rank 15th in the ACC in steals with 24.
"I would like to thank all of the fans for their support since my arrival at Maryland," Strawberry said in a statement. "I promise all of them that I'll be working hard to rehab when the time comes. I want to come back from this as a better basketball player."
Strawberry's injury leaves a major hole in the Terps' lineup, which is already juggling injuries, but it also creates more opportunities for sophomore guard Mike Jones.
Jones, a McDonald's high school All-American during his career at Thayer Academy in Dorchester, Mass., scored 21 points in Maryland's 80-69 victory over Temple on Saturday despite splitting time with Strawberry for much of the game. Jones already had gotten increased playing time while McCray recovered from a tailbone injury.
"My teammates know they can rely on me now in certain situations," said Jones, who played 11 minutes last night and scored five points in the Terps' 82-68 win over Virginia. "You have injuries, and you expect certain guys to step up. This is definitely a big week for myself and the rest of the team."
Jones said he feels good about how much playing time he has been getting, despite repeated complaints by fans that he should be seeing more action.
"I definitely feel comfortable with my role right now," Jones said. "I not upset that I'm not starting. I'm not upset that I'm not playing 30 or 25 minutes a game. The situation right now I'm in is great. I feel good. I'm going to do what I have to do to help the team."
Strawberry's absence also could lead to increased minutes for junior Sterling Ledbetter, who was recruited by Williams as a point guard out of Allegany Community College, but spent the first part of this season recovering from injuries suffered in a car accident.
Williams said this week that he feels comfortable with Ledbetter at shooting guard. The junior has played in each of the Terps' past seven games, and had three assists in 19 minutes against Wake Forest.
"Sterling is really ready to be a player here," Williams said. "He really helped us down at Wake."