College Park, Md. — Two years ago, Albert King was a shy and obviously homesick freshman who averaged 13.6 points a game on a University of Maryland team that finished the season with a mediocre 15-13 record.
Last year, King was still a somewhat reticent sophomore who scored at a 15.9 clip as the Terrapins finished with a respectable though hardly glittering 19-11 mark.
This year, King is a quietly assertive, and sometimes even aggressive, junior who is averaging over 21 points a game, soaring and scoring on an array of acrobatic inside and silken outside shots, and passing and rebounding as well.
King's evolution into the player virtually everyone thought he would be when he was the country's most sought-after high school star three years ago is a key reason that Maryland is one of the big surprises of the 1979-80 college basketball season.
Picked by most observers to finish in the bottom half of the eight-team Atlantic Coast Conference, and by no one except themselves to crack the Top 20, the Terrapins put together a 21-5 regular-season record, finished on top in the prestigious ACC with an 11-3 conference mark, and are ranked seventh in both wire service polls heading into postseason tournament play.
"I'm more comfortable," explains King, a slender, soft-spoken 6 ft., 6 in. forward. "I'm more relaxed.I have more confidence in myself."
Maryland coach Lefty Driesell agrees.
"I think he's more relaxed," Driesell says. "He's older and more mature, plus he's worked on his outside shooting and he's stronger and better defensively.
"Actually, I thought he had an excellent freshman year and an excellent sophomore year. But because we didn't win that much, people tended to overlook that.
"People expected too much of him when he came here. His peers and the press put a lot of pressure on him."
For one thing, of course, Albert was always being compared to his famous brother, Bernard, an All-American at Tennessee and now a star with the Utah Jazz in the National Basketball Association. For another, he had compiled a sensational schoolboy record of his own, capped by a 38-point-a-game average in his senior year at Brooklyn's Fort Hamilton High.
Albert admits that he felt pressure when he came to Maryland, but he says most of it came from within.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well," he says flatly. "I expected more of myself. I don't think I played up to my potential."
He also concedes that what he sees as his failure and that of his team his first two years left him frustrated and unhappy.
"I hate losing, and my first two years we lost a lot of games," he says.
In many of those losses, King's teammates seemed unwilling to give him the ball, and he was equally reluctant to demand it.
"My personality is such that I felt the older players should have the respect and attention," he says. "I depended on them."
But now he feels it natural to assume a leadership role on the Terrapins, a young team that has just one senior on its roster and starts, in addition to King, two juniors and a pair of sophomores.
"Time's going fast," he says with a smile.
"I'm a junior now and a lot of the guys look up to me. The team is depending on me more."
King has responded by leading the team in scoring in 18 of its 26 regular-season games, hitting 55 percent of his shots in the process, though he says, "I think I have to improve on my rebounding and helping out on defense."
"The team is making me comfortable," he says. "Everyone knows their roles. We're fast-breaking and I'm getting the ball in a good position to score.
"A lot of people didn't expect a lot of us," he adds. "But we expected a lot of ourselves."
And the Terrapins -- and Albert King -- are living up to those expectations.