CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There are no more games or practices for the Maryland basketball team, no more midnight flights or early morning shootarounds, no more wild swings of emotion that accompany a 14-15 team through a season that ended here Friday afternoon.
But, more significantly, there will be no more shackles, either. After their 94-87 loss to top-ranked Duke in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, the Terrapins are without NCAA sanctions for the first time in two years. They will, ++ however, remain on probation until the end of the 1992-93 season.
"It's good to be going into next season like everyone else," said Maryland coach Gary Williams with a catch in his throat and a smile on his face.
It will be the first time since the 1989-90 season -- Williams' first as coach at his alma mater -- that the Terps will be eligible for postseason competition. And it will also be the first time in nearly five years that some sort of cloud isn't hanging over the Maryland program.
There won't be any questions about the head coach's future or about key players thinking of transferring or about whether blue-chip recruits would be headed to College Park. The loss of Walt Williams, the ACC's leading scorer this season, won't be nearly as devastating as it might have been a year ago.
"Hopefully, we'll build on this," Gary Williams said of his team's more-than-respectable showing against the Blue Devils, as well as a season that ended with four victories in its last six games. "We lose a great player in Walt Williams. He's just been fantastic for us all year in terms of what he's given us and the University of Maryland. But we'll be able to go from here."
What Walt Williams gave the Terps, aside from more than 26 points a game this season and the school's most electrifying player since Len Bias, was hope. He instilled it in his teammates as well as in those who will follow him to Maryland. When Evers Burns got down, he talked to Walt. When DeMatha point guard Duane Simpkins got frustrated, he talked to Walt.
"He told me to enjoy my senior year in high school," Simpkins said recently. "To go out and have fun."
Simpkins, a Parade All-American, will lead Maryland's best recruiting class in 20 years onto the campus next fall, a recruiting class that could be the best in the country if Johnnie Rhodes, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, and Stacey Robinson, a 6-7 forward, qualify under the guidelines of Proposition 48.
While Simpkins, 6-7 swingman Exree Hipp out of Harker Prep in (( Potomac, and 6-8 forward Mario Lucas of Memphis will be in Maryland uniforms next season -- as well as 6-8 forward James Spears, a transfer from Temple -- the only questions concern Rhodes, a former Washington prep star now at Maine Central Institute, and Robinson, who was suspended from the DuVal High School team this year because of academic problems.
"With the guys we have coming back, and the young guys we have coming in, we have the makings of a pretty good team," said junior point guard Kevin McLinton, who with Burns will be the leaders next season. "And then when you add in a coach like Gary Williams, you've got the makings of a great team."
McLinton and Burns are prime examples of players who benefited from the circumstances that left Maryland a little short of bodies, not to mention talent, the past couple of years. Barely recruited out of high school, both have become solid ACC players and in the case of Burns, a burgeoning star.
After averaging 4.3 points and 2.7 rebounds as a freshman, and 7.7 points and 3.7 rebounds as a sophomore, the 6-8, 247-pound junior from Woodlawn became the ACC's most improved player this season. He averaged close to 16 points and more than seven rebounds, shot better than 50 percent and capped off the year with a 25-point, 10-rebound performance against the Blue Devils Friday.
"I was tough on Evers at the start of the year," said Gary Williams. "He didn't realize how good he is, and how good a player he can become. It's been fun to watch him develop into one of the better inside players in the league. He's got a legitimate chance to play after college."
While the better players had to push themselves in practice the past couple of years, those who return next season will have plenty of competition -- if not for starting jobs, then at least for playing time. Freshman reserves John Walsh, Wayne Bristol and Kurtis Shultz also showed signs of becoming valuable role players next season.
What Gary Williams will have for the first time since coming to Maryland is quality depth and quickness. No matter how hard Vince Broadnax worked, no matter how tough Garfield Smith was until he got hurt, no matter how quietly efficient Matthew Downing played, they were strictly blue-collar types in a world of blue-chippers.