COLLEGE PARK -- In recent years, the early signing period for recruits was marked by frustration and disappointment for Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams.
Yesterday, those who came by Williams' office offered congratulations rather than consolations. Yesterday, three of the area's, and country's, top recruits officially signed with the Terrapins.
DeMatha point guard Duane Simpkins, DuVal forward Stacy Robinson and swingman Exree Hipp of Harker Prep became the foundation for the future, and Williams thinks their recent past will help once they come to Maryland next fall.
"It's important to get players used to winning," said Williams. "Stacy Robinson's team won the state championship, Duane Simpkins' team was undefeated and Exree Hipp's team was among the top five in the country. They're going to expect to win here, and that's good."
Considering the way the players have spoken recently, these future Terps also expect to play, if not start, right away. Simpkins is considered the best pure point guard prospect in the country, while Robinson and Hipp are rated highly at the small forward and swing positions.
Whether or not they start, the addition of these three players -- as well as 6-foot-8 1/2 Mario Lucas of Memphis, Tenn., who has announced he will sign Monday -- gives a team that loses captains Walt Williams and Vince Broadnax, as well as starting power forward Garfield Smith, quality depth for next season.
"Obviously they're ACC players," said Gary Williams. "They're definitely at that level."
Williams said he thought several factors contributed to the players' decisions, among them an opportunity to play right away. But familiarity with Maryland's style was equally as important, along with other non-basketball factors.
"They know how we play, and they like to play that way," said Williams. "You have to be able to show that to kids, and we've done that the past two years. And academically, they've seen what our players have done the last couple of years."
It had been a difficult process for Williams to attract blue-chip talent to Maryland, with NCAA sanctions barring the Terps from national postseason competition through this season (they will be allowed to play in the ACC tournament this year) and with other schools promising the bright spotlight Maryland couldn't provide.
"That was the one question: Could we attract the players that would take you up to the top level of teams, so you can be competitive with them?" said Williams.
The answer came yesterday. In triplicate.
NOTES: Lucas said Tuesday that he planned to sign with Maryland after his visit to Memphis State this weekend. . . . Another big man, 6-9, 240-pound Steve Rich of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has indicated he will wait until the spring before deciding. Rich was the leading rebounder in last summer's Nike All-Star camp in Indianapolis. . . . Maryland will hold a full Red-White scrimmage Monday night at Cole Field House at 7 p.m. The public is invited.