Terps ready to display promise in France

August 18, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Some visitors did double takes. Some joggers were distracted. And some college hoopaholics, especially University of Maryland fans, found themselves fantasizing about the upcoming season.

In the middle of August.

With blessings from the NCAA, the Terrapins have been working out at Cole Field House since Monday for their nine-day trip to France. The team leaves tomorrow and will play six games, including one against the team that now employs former Maryland center Cedric Lewis.

It's just the beginning of what should be the most hotly anticipated Maryland basketball season in more than a decade, given the Terps' surprising run to the Sweet 16 and the fact that the team returns virtually intact, including star sophomore Joe Smith.

With it should come not only attention for Smith, but for the rest of the team as well. Maryland will likely be picked among the top 12 to 15 teams in most preseason polls, perhaps in the top 10, and at least one preseason magazine has the Terps at the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"It's a good feeling to be picked so high, because we've come from so far back," said Maryland coach Gary Williams.

As for the trip to France, Williams said: "I think it helps a team. You're really by yourself and the team becomes the focus."

Junior point guard Duane Simpkins, one of the keys to Maryland's 18-12 record a year ago, is looking forward to playing under international rules because he says it will help the team's up-tempo offense.

"I find when I can get the ball up quicker and push it, the other teams have a harder time getting into their defense," said Simpkins.

Sophomore forward Keith Booth, who finished last season with a 17-point, nine-rebound performance in the Sweet 16 loss to Michigan, is looking forward to seeing if the work he's done this summer on his jump shot has paid off.

"I've been trying to hit my shot off the dribble," said Booth, who'll be joined at Maryland by former Dunbar High School teammate Rodney Elliott in the fall. "That will open up the floor for me."

And Smith will be looking to continue his worldly travels. After going to the West Coast for the first time last weekend as a member of this year's Playboy All-America team, Smith will be leaving the continent for the first time.

"I'm starting to see things I never saw before," he said. "I'm looking forward to this. It will be a great experience."

Williams likes the idea of a trip right before school starts. With the first official practice date moved back to the traditional Oct. 15 after a year's experiment at Nov. 1, Williams said he hopes that what his players work on in France will still be fresh in their minds.

The players just like the idea of being on the court as a team.

"It will give us a jump on most of the other teams once practice starts," said Simpkins.

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