Bill Hass on the ACC: Maryland Turns to Landon Milbourne to Help Fill an Inside Gap
Jan. 22, 2009
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Things don’t always go according to a blueprint in a college basketball season.
Maryland, usually a team with several big, tough bodies in the post, found itself without many experienced inside players this year. So the Terps turned to Landon Milbourne for some help.
The 6-7 junior, who spent two years as a wing player, moved back to his old high school position to give the Terps a much-needed boost. He’s averaging 12.6 points and 5.5 rebounds, second-best on the team in both categories.
“I struggled in the beginning of the season because I had to get that feeling back of playing (the position I played) in high school,” Milbourne said. “Now that I’ve gotten over that little hump, I think my progress is coming each and every game and I’m getting more comfortable with it. I’ve put a lot of hard work in and right now it’s starting to pay off a little bit.”
Milbourne’s contributions haven’t escaped the notice of coach Gary Williams.
“I think Landon is one of those people that you really respect in coaching because he’s never complained,” Williams said. “He probably feels he should be playing more of a guard position, but this year it’s very important to us that Landon can be a rebounder.
“Next year he’ll be a senior and things could be a little different in terms of new players coming in. But right now he’s as valuable as anybody we have because he has filled a gap that we had this year.”
The Terps are 2-2 in the ACC and 13-5 overall with a big game coming up Saturday at second-ranked Duke. Milbourne relishes the opportunity to play for the third time in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“The atmosphere is great down there,” he said. “A lot of people say it’s a scary place to play, but as a player you like that. You like when the crowd is really into it and they’re trying to make fun of you, throwing little jokes at you. So I don’t think the atmosphere will be rattling for us. I think we’ll play well.”
The Terps will count on Milbourne to rebound well against the Blue Devils, and that part of his game is coming along nicely. In Maryland’s four ACC games, he is averaging 7.5 boards and he grabbed nine each against Georgia Tech and Florida State.
“I really, really want to get a game with double-digit rebounds,” he said. “All it takes is a lot of energy and just being in the right place at the right time. Fortunately I’ve been able to deliver a couple of rebounds at the end of the game. (Against Virginia) I got an offensive rebound at the right time, so if I keep that going, hopefully I’ll be able to get a double-double before the season is over.”
At about 210 pounds, Milbourne is expected to hold his ground defensively against much bigger bodies.
“I think he plays position, and that’s the key,” Williams said. “Landon is pretty smart defensively; he knows how to stay between somebody and the basket and that allows him to play against bigger people.”
The matchups take a toll on Milbourne’s body, requiring a lot of post-game icing and plenty of rest and healing on days off. But he understands the physical nature of play inside and isn’t going to back off.
“I can take it and I don’t have a problem with it; I can dish it out as well,” he said of the battles inside. “I just try to keep moving. Once you stand still, you’ve pretty much lost that battle. You keep moving, try to get firm position and make it tough for the guards to pass it in there.
“It takes a lot of energy but once you get it done you’ll have a better advantage. If you back up and stay behind the guy, he can get a move on you and get a good shot. But if you can prevent him from getting the ball, all you have to worry about is just getting the rebound when the shot goes up.”
The third part of Milbourne’s game that has changed is on offense. By moving closer to the basket his shooting percentage has risen from 43.5 percent last season to 51.7 percent this year. But he is taking fewer 3-point shots and his percentage there has dropped from 39.3 to 28.6.
Williams pointed out that Milbourne’s size is a double-edged sword. Teams may try to take advantage of him when he plays defense, but they also must guard him at the other end of the floor, a matchup that Milbourne can exploit with his quickness. He also is using some post moves that he developed in high school.
“A couple games I’ve used some good post moves and then stepped back to shoot a 3,” he said. “The coaches tell me I’ve got a lot of mid-range moves and I can use those in the post as well. All it takes is a couple steps to get by a guy or get the ball on the block and try to face up. When you turn and face up big guys, they have to respect that. If they back up you can shoot over them and if they don’t I give a little pump-fake and go around them.”
Those were the kinds of things Milbourne did as an inside player for three years in high school in Roswell, Ga., and one season at Oak Hill Academy. When he got to Maryland, he began his transition to a wing player.
In his freshman year he was the backup to D.J. Strawberry and rarely got on the floor, averaging less than five minutes a game in 16 games. Some players might look at that as a lost season, but not Milbourne.
“When I came here, it was a completely different kind of game,” he said. “That’s the difference in college – you come in as a freshman and you’re not going to be the superstar on the team or one of the go-to guys.
“I was playing behind D.J. Strawberry and I accepted that and I just knew my role, which was to come in at practice and try to make him better, try to make the team better, try to do my best. I think the coaches noticed that.
“When the season was over I told the coaches ‘I want to start next year and I want to make a big difference in this team. Tell me what I have to do to get better.’ They told me and I worked on it and worked on it all summer. I don’t regret not being able to play that much as a freshman because I think it made me that much hungrier, I think it made me that much more focused and made me work harder.”
Milbourne did earn a starting role last season and averaged 8.2 points. The blueprint would have had him staying on the wing this season and being one of the Terps’ main scoring threats. But necessity dictated otherwise.
Maryland has signed two inside players for next season, so there’s a good chance Milbourne will move back outside.
“I definitely look forward to it because I put in so much time and so much hard work,” he said. “I worked on my perimeter game a lot this summer and unfortunately I haven’t been able to show my skills. But I had to do what I did for the team and I have no problem with that. I accepted it and agree with it.”
One of the pleasures of this season for Milbourne has been having his father, Andre Foreman, attend all of Maryland’s home games. Foreman will also be at Saturday’s game with Duke. That hasn’t been the case in the past because Foreman has been playing professionally overseas, most recently in Finland.
“We’ve kept real close over the past five or six years,” Milbourne said. “We spend a lot of time together, work out together, we play one-on-one a lot. I’m grateful to have him here, watching me grow on the court. I think he’s my biggest fan and my biggest critic. He talks to me about my game a lot, gives me pointers when he can.”
Foreman was a superb player at Salisbury State, a Division III school in Maryland, where he twice made All-America. At 6-6, he played all over the court and was a big-time scorer. He led the nation in scoring in 1990-91, averaging 31.5 points per game. Foreman still holds Division III career records of 2,940 points and 1,140 field goals.
“He’s patient and can break you down and is definitely one of those guys who can score at will,” Milbourne said. “Over his years he’s developed a jump shot that’s almost unstoppable, and I tried to get that in my game this past summer, working on my mid-range jumper. He’s very familiar with having to move from the wing to the forward, so he’s teaching me a lot. He knows I’m capable of doing well and he reminds me every day.”
So what will Milbourne and his teammates be able to show his father, and the rest of the ACC, the remainder of this season?
Holding on to second-half leads will be a good start. Milbourne said the Terps have started fast most games, but have hit costly second-half slumps, particularly on the road. More toughness and more focus are the answers, he said.
“We’re not a perfect team, as you can see, but we’re one step away,” he added. “We’re right around the corner from having a very successful season.
“We’ve got to change a couple of things about the way we play, those four- or five-minute slumps that we’ve been having in the second half. If we can get rid of those, that will make us even better. If we can play like Maryland, I think we’ll have a pretty good season this year.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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