Cekovsky’s pres­ence adds new el­e­ment to Mary­land of­fense.

Cekovsky’s pres­ence adds new el­e­ment to Mary­land of­fense

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY TOMMY CHALK

With Mary­land se­nior cen­ter Da­monte Dodd out of the lineup with a sprained me­dial col­lat­eral lig­a­ment for the fore­see­able fu­ture, an op­por­tu­nity was pre­sented to cen­ter Michal Cekovsky — and the Slo­vakian-born big man has flour­ished.

Since Dodd’s in­jury, Cekovsky has av­er­aged 13 points per game over three con­tests, mak­ing 75 per­cent of his shots in the paint and adding two blocks per game to his stat line.

A phys­i­cally in­tim­i­dat­ing player, he’s be­come a dom­i­nat­ing pres­ence down low for the Ter­rap­ins. At 7-foot-1, 250 pounds, he’s the largest player on Mary­land’s ros­ter, and op­pos­ing teams are hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ties match­ing up.

Against smaller Howard on Dec. 7, Mary­land took an in­sid­e­out of­fen­sive ap­proach, bring­ing the ball down the court and heav­ing up lobs for Cekovsky, who was con­sis­tently planted un­der the hoop. If he could power his way to the rim, he would. If he didn’t have a lane, he’d kick the ball out to some­one wait­ing on the perime­ter. Cekovsky fin­ished with 16 points.

The strat­egy con­tin­ued against Jack­sonville State on Mon­day. With an­other no­tice­able size ad­van­tage un­der the bas­ket, the Terps fed Cekovsky, who re­sponded with two mon­strous slams en route to adding an­other 15 points to his ju­nior year re­sume.

“When he gets the ball in the block, he can re­ally do it all, and he’s a re­ally good passer,” Mary­land fresh­man guard Kevin Huerter said. “He’s re­ally ef­fec­tive when we can get the ball down to him, be­cause he can score and he’s so big, he can pass over any­one. He’s un­selfish. So, when we get the ball to him, usu­ally good things hap­pen.”

Cekovsky is the lat­est prod­uct to emerge from coach Mark Tur­geon’s Euro­pean tal­ent pipe­line. Born in Kosice, Slo­vakia, the player af­fec­tion­ately known as “Ceko” is one of three

Euro­pean-born big men Tur­geon has re­cruited to Col­lege Park since his hir­ing in 2011.

Cekovsky and Ivan Bender (Croa­tia) are cur­rently on the team, but it’s Cekovsky who seems to be fol­low­ing the tra­jec­tory of Alex Len, the Ukrainian who pre­ceded them both in the pro­gram. Len, drafted with the fifth-over­all pick by the Phoenix Suns in the 2013 NBA draft, av­er­aged 11.9 points per game his sopho­more year be­fore declar­ing for the NBA early.

Tur­geon has sim­i­lar high ex­pec­ta­tions for his cur­rent young cen­ter.

“I talk to Ceko more than any­body,” Tur­geon said. “I coach him more than any­body on the team. He prob­a­bly hears my voice in his sleep. But, there’s a lot of po­ten­tial there.”

The of­fen­sive skills are read­ily ap­par­ent. On the de­fen­sive end and on the boards, Cekovsky has room for im­prove­ment.

Tur­geon says Cekovsky is one of the bet­ter de­fend­ers on the team, but needs to work on his tim­ing to win more re­bounds. If Len’s sopho­more sea­son is a bench­mark, Cekovsky isn’t quite there. Cekovsky is pulling down just 3.5 boards per game this year, and just 2.7 re­bounds per game since Dodd has been ab­sent. Len av­er­aged 7.8 per game his sopho­more year.

Con­sid­er­ing Cekovsky some­times has a six-inch ad­van­tage over op­pos­ing team’s start­ing for­wards — as he did against both Howard last week and Saint Peter’s on Satur­day — the Ter­rap­ins want to see those re­bound­ing av­er­ages grow.

The num­ber of times he’s been whis­tled for fouls is fur­ther ev­i­dence of Cekovsky’s tim­ing prob­lem: Since be­com­ing the starter, Cekovsky is av­er­ag­ing 3.3 fouls per game.

Cekovsky said elim­i­nat­ing fouls is al­ways a point of em­pha­sis. But he also said he’s notic­ing things are start­ing to click for him.

“I feel more com­fort­able on the court, de­fense and of­fense,” Cekovsky said. “It’s get­ting bet­ter ev­ery game, I feel bet­ter ev­ery game. I’m get­ting there.”

Cekovsky is bring­ing an el­e­ment to the Ter­rap­ins’ at­tack they didn’t have with Dodd: A point-pro­vid­ing cen­ter who can help fa­cil­i­tate a ball-mov­ing of­fense. Cekovsky is a threat un­der the bas­ket, while Dodd is known more for his de­fen­sive prow­ess. Prior to his in­jury, Dodd av­er­aged 5.9 points per game, the most in his four-year ca­reer, but Dodd has still never scored more than 13 points in a game in the 100 he’s par­tic­i­pated in his Mary­land ca­reer. Cekovsky has recorded at least 15 points in a game three times this year alone.

With no clear in­di­ca­tion of how long Dodd will be out, Cekovsky is go­ing to con­tinue to get more op­por­tu­ni­ties to prove him­self and grow. In just three show­cases since Dodd’s in­jury, Cekovsky may have al­ready war­ranted a de­ci­sion.

“I think Ceko is mov­ing to­ward be­ing the starter to be hon­est with you with the way he’s play­ing,” Tur­geon said.

The Ter­rap­ins (12-1) face UNC-Char­lotte (6-3) Tues­day in Bal­ti­more.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mary­land ju­nior for­ward Michal Cekovsky has av­er­aged 13 points and two blocks per game over three con­tests since se­nior cen­ter Da­monte Dodd went down with an in­jury. Mary­land coach Mark Tur­geon said Cekovsky “is mov­ing to­ward be­ing the starter to be hon­est with you.”

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