COLLEGE PARK -- The idea formed in the nimble minds of Walt Williams and Evers Burns at Howie's Restaurant on Route 1 two years ago on the eve of Midnight Madness.
Why not, they thought, show up for the start of Maryland basketball practice with shaved heads? They returned to their room, whereupon Williams plowed a stripe on his head with an electric trimmer.
"Why did you do that?" Burns said, suddenly recoiling at the idea of shaving his head. "Now I have to do it."
And so he did. Then he and Williams shaved the rest of the hair off their heads and went to the opening practice bald. Last year they encouraged a few teammates to join them.
When the Terps trotted onto the Cole Field House floor before a gathering of 2,000 at 12:01 a.m. today for the start of Gary Williams' third year as coach, there wasn't a single hair on a player's head. Three or four players didn't want their pates exposed by Williams, the team barber, but they were quickly subdued.
"We had to hold them down," Burns said, chortling, "even McLinton."
Junior Kevin McLinton wasn't spared even though he is on crutches after undergoing outpatient surgery Friday for removal of a bone chip from his right ankle.
"I didn't think they'd get me," McLinton said. "But what could I do? I couldn't run."
The ankle problem is a hangover from last season. When he aggravated it two weeks ago in a pickup game, the decision was made to operate. McLinton is expected to miss only two weeks of practice.
The Terps consider their shaved heads a display of unity and spirit. For that reason, coach Williams said, "I kind of like it." Player Williams said there was still another reason.
"It improves our aerodynamics and helps us jump higher," he said with a straight face, "especially the white guys."
One of the white guys, sophomore Mike Thibeault of Glen Burnie, was shooting around in Cole around 4 p.m. yesterday and was ready to go back to his room when eight players descended on him. With no place to hide, he went meekly to the locker room and submitted to the initiation -- a stripe shaved on his head by Garfield Smith.
"They said I could leave then if I wanted," Thibeault said, "but I didn't want to walk around with the stripe. I let them shave it all off."
Thibeault thought he might be spared because of the tattoo he got over the summer. It's on his lower leg and shows a Terrapin holding a basketball with the number 3 (his uniform number) on it.
"We had to take military action against some of these guys," Burns said. "We scouted them and then hunted them down. We feel this shows people we're family. It'll be a great help to team chemistry."
Midnight Madness preliminaries began at 11 p.m. when the students began filing in while the cheerleaders were doing back handsprings. The band was on hand and spectators were encouraged to go onto the floor and chat with the players and get autographs.
"The students and players like Midnight Madness," coach Williams said. "Sometimes we don't do enough for them. They like this. Myself, I'd rather have a good, hard practice."
In keeping with the NCAA's rule forbidding practice before Oct. 15, the Terps' 20-minute scrimmage didn't start until just after midnight. Williams sat through it calmly, his arms folded, as players on Williams' Red team defeated the White, 50-33.
This afternoon, coach Williams felt, would be soon enough to begin serious preparations for the Nov. 23 opener against Mount St. Mary's.