TSR's take: Gist is showing star power

The first time I saw James Gist, he was a gangly 6-foot-7 high school underclassman wearing calf-high tweety-bird socks under his sneakers. He could really jump – and that, really, was about it. I scoffed at rumors of Maryland having offered him a scholarship.


Well, I don't know how much credit to give to his development as a basketball player or to my lack of scouting acumen at that time, or whether I should chalk it up to the crapshoot that recruiting can be, but I do know this: There's no longer any question that Gist is Maryland's ‘franchise player,' so to speak.

In the best performance of his career to date, Gist made 10 of 11 shots and scored a career-high 26 points in Maryland's desperately-needed 80-65 win Wednesday night over Georgia Tech. He scored from inside, often while being fouled, and scored from outside with his ever-improving jumpshot. He set the tone with a blocked shot on the game's first play. And he did it all a mere 23 minutes of play, limited in playing time because of a quick third foul he picked up to start the second half.

This is the player Gary Williams undoubtedly envisioned when he plucked Gist from Good Counsel High School. Many of us didn't have that vision; even at the start of this season, there were plenty of detractors who said he'd never be more than a serviceable ACC player.

Imagine that, folks: Sometimes out of all of us, the recruiting expert actually IS the head coach.

Gist will need to keep his upward progression going if the Terps are to make something good of this season, which, now at a lukewarm 2-4 in the ACC -- rather than what would've been a comatose 1-5 -- is doable. He was simply too big, too strong and athletic for Georgia Tech, which helped Maryland's cause by posting putrid numbers from the free-throw line (6-of-16) and 3-point arc (1-of-17). You don't see those kinds of numbers from an ACC club, any ACC club, too often.

The thing that has surprised me most about Gist is his shooting touch. He still fails too finish inside opportunities too often for a player of his caliber, but his jumpshot is suddenly silky. At 6-foot-8, with a vertical leap that the school reports to be higher than Len Bias's, Gist is a tough matchup. Mix in his newfound marksmanship from outside and improved free-throw shooting – up from his career average 65 percent to almost 75 percent – and maybe the Terps do have a go-to player after all.

Even if Gist isn't quite well-rounded enough offensively to be fill that crucial role quite yet, there appears to be little question he will be next season, when the Terps will need it more than ever. Maryland is going to be hard-pressed for low-post points next year. Which brings me to my next point…

Ekene Ibekwe needs to get it together. After he had a great showing against Dirk Nowitzki in international play last summer, I figured he was poised to finally put it all together. But he's forcing too much, in a few different ways. He seemingly refuses to kick the ball out of the post to open shooters, and several times against Georgia Tech he spoiled great defensive plays by teammates by racing off with the ball and turning it over. Each time, you could feel the disaster coming a few seconds before it occurred. And he's relying far too much on blocked shots defensively, unable to keep opposing post players from scoring.

It sometimes appears he's trying to prove himself, perhaps to NBA scouts.

One thing that isn't Ibekwe's fault, though, is how he sometimes gets tossed around under the hoop. He just has a naturally slight frame and while you can tell he's worked hard to put on muscle in the weight room, some guys are just skinny. While Gist was powering through his defenders and scoring despite being fouled, Ibekwe is forced to sling the ball at the rim when he's fouled.

Some have clamored for more time for Boom Osby in Ebekwe's place, but I don't think it's feasible. For all of his faults, Ibekwe is still 6-9 and very quick, which makes him a presence on the boards and on help-side blocks. And he's still got very respectable shooting percentages. It's just the in-between plays where he still needs to improve.
Osby, on the other hand, is a grinder. He struggles mightily to hold onto the ball quite often. Against Georgia Tech, I'm not sure if he had one clean catch. His massive upper body makes him a threat to earn free throws, but he misses half of them. He is a good role player. Let him be that.

Hopefully that's all he'll need to be next year. Because Gist, with another offseason of improvement, especially on his ballhandling, could be a scary thought for other teams.

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