Maryland's Robert Carter Jr. knows he can shoot.
Standing 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, the junior forward may not look like a traditional spot-up sniper. He knows he's shooting 29.4 percent from 3-point range this season for the Terps -- two years after shooting around 26 percent at Georgia Tech. But he's knocked down too many jumpers when no one is watching to let it faze him.
A notorious hard worker, Carter transferred to Maryland two summers ago in hopes of elevating his game. He had to sit out a year, watching Maryland basketball's renaissance from the sidelines. He wanted to transform his body, intent on adding a perimeter element to his already-polished inside game.
So he worked, then he worked some more. And then the season started, but Carter wasn't done. He couldn't stay out of the gym during finals week. He briefly returned to his tiny hometown of Thomasville, Ga., for holiday break, where he had his father, a former junior college player, and some of his old coaches worked him out in the local gym. The jumpers continued to fall.
"I trust in my shot," he said Dec. 27 after collecting 19 points and eight rebounds during the Terps' 87-67 win against Marshall.
Carter hit two early 3-pointers but then went cold, finishing 2-of-7 from downtown on the night.
"I'm going to continue to shoot," Carter said. "I've put in time. Coach has seen me put in time, too. Everybody here has seen me put in time. The janitor here has seen it."
It didn't take Carter long to prove he's a man of his word. He launched a 3-pointer a minute into Maryland's next game, connecting to give the Terps an early advantage in their Big Ten opener against Penn State Dec. 30. The Nittany Lions gave Maryland its toughest test in a month, leading most of the way in College Park.
The Terps finally nudged ahead late courtesy of six straight points from freshman center Diamond Stone. Only up two with less than a minute remaining, Carter didn't think twice when he got the ball at the top of the key. He fired off another 3-pointer, his first since the opening minute. This one was good, too, sealing the 70-64 win for Maryland.
Many have been quick to attribute Maryland's top-five ranking to head coach Mark Turgeon's more heralded names. Stone, the fabulous freshman with the Hollywood moniker, had 39 points during that game and is a potential NBA lottery pick. Senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon, another transfer, brings that Duke pedigree. Incumbents Melo Trimble and Jake Layman both landed on the Wooden Award watch list.
Carter? Well, he is just quietly consistent, which may be his best attribute outside of his leadership. But his dagger against Penn State was nothing new. He's been taking and making big shots for Maryland all season. In the preseason, not one Maryland coach or player talked about the team's leadership core without mention of Carter and Layman, fellow 21-year-olds who played together on the AAU circuit.
As of Jan. 12, Carter has scored in double digits in 12 of Maryland's 15 games. He's averaging 12.6 points in 24.9 minutes, leading the team in rebounding (6.9 per game) and blocks (1.6).
"He's been terrific," Turgeon said early in December. "[He's] very efficient offensively. He's feeling very comfortable. It started in practice and kind of carried over to the games. He's just at a really high level offensively."
The most glaring statistic for the 21-year-old has been his field goal percentage. Despite now playing a more perimeter-oriented game, Carter is shooting 54.4 percent, as of Jan. 12, compared to the 46.7 number he boasted two seasons ago in Atlanta. And that is after going a combined 12-for-33 during his first four Big Ten games. Carter has simply been one of the nation's most efficient players.
"I don't have to deal with double-teams all the time," he said. "I feel like I'm one of the hardest players to guard in the country one on one. Just as far as one-on-one play, I feel like I'll always be efficient, because I've been doing it all my life. It is easy, because you've got so much talent around you."
Maryland came into this season with historical expectations. From an offensive standpoint, the team may be exceeding them, ranking among the most efficient teams in the land, thanks to Carter and Co. The players seem to recognize that each teammate is as talented as the next. They have been remarkably unselfish on offense; superstars content to pass up one wide-open look for a more open one.
"We're really talented on offense," Carter said. "Sacrifice is just taking good shots. Sacrifice is not taking every shot you think is open, but taking a more open one and making the right play. I think it's rubbing off on our team. I think we have a very unselfish team, and we're all looking to make the right play."
The result has been a beautiful version of basketball. But it remains to be seen if it is sustainable in league play, where the Terps' opponents have studied them. At some point, a big game is going to be on the line, and Trimble will be forced to go one on one. Or they'll have to dump it into Stone. Or Layman. Or Sulaimon. Or maybe Carter is that guy.
There is no shortage of options in College Park, and Carter is as good as any of them, no matter where he is on the court. Fans might not know it yet since his name isn't found on any watch lists or NBA draft boards, but Carter knows it. And he's ready to fire.