Toliver aims to keep Terps in rhythm in Final Four

BOSTON -- I was driving around once glued to NPR; it was this fascinating program on how much music affects your brain in ways that no one really understands. It told about this guy who had some illness that destroyed his ability to remember anything visual, but he could still play entire concertos by memory on the piano.

I should add while I was listening to this, I was busy getting lost for an hour on the Jersey side of the Big Apple. Maybe I should have been listening to music instead and it might somehow have affected my brain to help me figure out where I was going. Or maybe not.

Anyway, this "unknown power of music" thing flashed through my mind when I was talking to Maryland freshman point guard Kristi Toliver.

Along with directing the offense for the Terps, Toliver is also the most musical person on her team. She didn't brag about this, just confirmed it when asked.

"I am, by far. I play the trumpet and I whistle every song. You can ask anybody on the team," Toliver said, smiling. "I started trumpet in the fifth grade; that's when band was first offered. Growing up, I'd been in the choir and I've always been into music. My mom was into oldies and my dad was into jazz. So I got a lot of varieties.

"My mom plays the French horn, my dad plays the saxophone and my sister plays the piano. So it runs in the family. Definitely, my second passion is music."

You probably know Toliver's dad, George, more as former NBA referee than a sax player. Similarly, basketball is where Kristi is making her mark now. But her musical instinct just might have more to do with that than meets the eye.

Can having an innate sense of rhythm help you some way as a basketball player?

I expected Toliver might laugh off this question or just assume I was just one of those people who get lost while listening to NPR programs that were really over their heads. Instead, though, she nodded. Maybe her musical "wiring" did affect her hoops just a bit.

"I feel like that sometimes, actually," said Toliver, who is averaging 11.4 points and 4.5 assists for the Terps. "And I love the symphonic band more than solo improv. It's like … the solo improv is my one-on-one game [in basketball] and the full band is the whole team."

Toliver performed quite a good solo piece, though, against Utah in the Albuquerque Regional final. She had a season-high 28 points, plus added six assists. The Utes played smart defense, but they had to give up something and hope it wouldn't hurt them too much. However, Toliver hurt them too much.

It was a huge game for a rookie who had missed five games in December with leg injuries. And who had come into the Maryland program last summer as a 5-foot-7 guard from Harrisonburg, Va., who weighed a spindly 118 pounds.

That wasn't going to cut it in the ACC, and she knew it.

"Kristi was extremely focused and driven as soon as she graduated from high school," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "She came in and dedicated herself to two sessions of summer school, and her No. 1 goal in workouts was to put on that added weight and strength. She didn't want to be behind when she stepped on the floor. It's been great to see all her hard work pay off for her."

Part of the work, actually, was consuming the right stuff as well as hitting the weights.

"Eating a lot, drinking those weight-shake things," she said. "I drank like four of those a day."

Now, if the days were just a little longer, she might be able to squeeze in more time with the horn. As it is, she doesn't get that much practice.

Toliver enjoyed band so much that the idea of composing did cross her mind when she was in high school.

"But I knew if I couldn't dedicate all my time to it, I don't think it would work out," she said. "If I could get back into that someday, I would."

Well, what about doing something else … like playing the national anthem before a game at Maryland?

"I thought about that throughout middle school and high school, but I never did it," Toliver said. "If I did it now in college … whew, I'd have to start practicing. Playing in front of thousands of people … I haven't done that in a while. But it would be cool … maybe my senior year for my senior game."

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.