TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - More than halfway through his Maryland basketball career, Eric Hayes has had moments when he has reminded many of the player to whom he was compared coming out of high school: former Terrapins point guard Steve Blake.
But those moments, like the team's overall success, have been sporadic.
While Blake was celebrated as the starting point guard on two Final Four teams and helped the Terps win a national title as a junior in 2002, Hayes has seen his stock fall in the two years since Maryland won 25 games and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament.
As Maryland (12-4, 1-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) faces an important character test today against Florida State (14-3, 1-1) - coming three days after the Terps blew a 17-point second half at Miami - Hayes, a junior, finds himself being questioned, too.
Is he the kind of player who can make big shots, as he did in a comeback win at home over Georgia Tech a week ago, or one who rarely takes them, as happened against the Hurricanes and on other occasions the past 2 1/2 seasons?
Hayes said he hasn't asserted himself enough to get into a consistent offensive rhythm.
"It's tough to say. I haven't really needed to put myself in the offensive end a whole lot," Hayes said before the Miami game. "If Greivis [Vasquez] is scoring well, Landon [Milbourne] is scoring well, I haven't really been needed to step up like that."
After scoring a season-high 17 points against Georgia Tech, eight coming on three straight baskets that helped the Terps erase a 10-point deficit in the final 9 1/2 minutes, Hayes was invisible for much of the second half against Miami.
After the game, Vasquez said several of his teammates, Hayes included, needed to be more aggressive in looking at the basket when games were on the line. After scoring seven points in the first half - five in the first 88 seconds - Hayes took only one shot in the second half.
"He's a crucial guy for us," Vasquez said of his former roommate. "We definitely need him to play harder. He's one of the most important guys on the team, and we need him to step up a little more. He's got to be an offensive player every day."
After being hampered by a sprained ankle for much of his sophomore season, Hayes spent 10 days last summer working out in Portland, Ore., with Blake, the starting point guard for the Trail Blazers. The biggest piece of advice Blake gave Hayes had to do with his assertiveness.
"He saw all the talent I have when I was out there, and he told me to be aggressive, take charge out on the floor," said Hayes, averaging 10 points and 3.4 assists while taking just 8.5 shots a game.
Longtime ACC television analyst Dan Bonner said Hayes is often misjudged because of his "mild-mannered" personality.
"He's a guy who has pretty good skills [but] ... given his personality, you really don't notice him unless he's scoring points," Bonner said yesterday. "What you notice about him is that he's not scoring points."
Maryland coach Gary Williams said last night that he talked with Hayes after the Miami game.
"I think with Eric, he's at his best when he's aggressive," Williams said. "For Eric to be aggressive, I think it's harder than it is for some guys because he's not an aggressive person. He's a nice person. You try to find a button to push to get him like that when he's out there. We needed more points and more shots. If you miss, you miss."
Hayes said it's not in his personality to take over, especially with someone as demonstrative as Vasquez sharing the backcourt.
"I'm more of a quiet guy," Hayes said. "Off the court, I'm not the loudest guy, either. When you get into the game, you've got to overcome that."
MARYLAND (12-4, 1-1)
@FLA. STATE (14-3, 1-1)
Today, , noon
TV: Chs. 54, 5
Radio: 1300 AM, 105.7 FM
Line: Florida State by 3 1/2