COLLEGE PARK -- Just a year ago, Michele Andrew and Malissa Boles were a world away from big-time women's college basketball.
Andrew was playing club basketball in Finland while Boles was finishing up her sophomore year at Sullivan Junior College in Lexington, Ky.
However, the two important newcomers officially graduate to the big-time tomorrow night as their eighth-ranked Maryland Terrapins take on Toledo in the Mideast Regional of the NCAA tournament.
Andrew and Boles, who have played significant roles for the Terps all season, can hardly wait.
"I've always dreamed of playing in the NCAA tournament," said Boles, a 5-foot-10 junior guard/forward. "I've been excited since they announced the pairings on Sunday. When they called Maryland, I just couldn't wait to practice, but we only had a shoot-around on Monday."
Andrew, a 6-foot sophomore forward, is just as excited. "We don't have anything like this in Finland, so I am looking forward to seeing what this is all about," she said.
Both women traveled unconventional routes to get to College Park. Andrew, a member of the Finnish national team, came with the team on its tour of 11 East Coast schools last season.
The Finnish team, led by Andrew's 18 points and 10 rebounds, beat Maryland, 76-74. After the game, Maryland coach Chris Weller began to work on getting Andrew in a Terps uniform.
"When they asked me, I said I didn't know if I wanted to come. I was already 23 and I was thinking I might be too old," said Andrew. "I wasn't sure if I could play here. The teams are much better here than in Finland."
But after asking former Maryland player Kaisa Maine, who is also a Finnish native, "a paperful of questions" about the American culture and the Maryland team, Andrew took the plunge.
So far, things have worked out well. Andrew supplanted Bonnie Rimkus, last season's ACC Rookie of the Year, in the starting lineup, and has used quickness and good positioning to counter her lack of height at the power forward slot, averaging 9.1 points and five rebounds.
"I didn't realize that the teams here were so much more intense," said Andrew. "In Finland, basketball is like a hobby. I knew that Maryland is usually one of the top teams. I knew the program is respected. But I didn't expect it to be so good."
Boles' route to College Park wasn't nearly as long as Andrew's, but just as circuitous. She was recruited by Weller out of high school in Milwaukee, but didn't meet Proposition 48 guidelines.
"I didn't take high school seriously until my junior year, and then as my skills got better, I started to think, 'Maybe, I can do this,' " said Boles. "I started to work harder at things and now I'm here."
But not before she went through three junior colleges, finally settling on Sullivan, where she led the team to a 28-4 record last year. She averaged 23.5 points, eight rebounds and three assists and was named to the Kodak junior college All-America first team.
This season, Boles, who began the year as Weller's first player off the bench, emerged as a starter in the ninth game and stayed there the rest of the way. Her soft baseline jumper, 13.4-point average and solid defensive play got her a place on the All-ACC second team.
"I forgot all about the all-conference stuff until the [conference awards] banquet," said Boles. "It never entered my mind. I was thinking on a team concept. It really is a big honor."
Awards aside, the Terps' next task is to put aside their play in the last month, where they lost four of seven, including a 68-67 setback to Georgia Tech in which they lost a 17-point lead in the last 7:30.
"It [the Georgia Tech game] opened our eyes and it may be a blessing in disguise," said Boles. "The game is not over and there is no celebrating until the horn has been blown and there is no time on the clock and we are ahead."
Andrew, a novice to the hype of the NCAA tournament, has caught on to its central meaning.
"I have not thought about it [being eliminated with the next loss]," said Andrew. "They told me that we have five games to go to the national championship. I still look forward to playing all those games."