Beyond Terps, it's a state of flux

October 14, 1994|By Don Markus and Gary Lambrecht | Don Markus and Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writer Alan Goldstein contributed to this article.

Two years ago, Joe Smith and Keith Booth came to Cole Field House as blue-chip recruits to watch Midnight Madness. Smith was then a relatively unknown senior at Maury High School in Norfolk, Va; Booth was a widely known All-American at Dunbar.

"I was looking at the talent, at guys like Exree [Hipp], Duane [Simpkins] and Johnny [Rhodes]," said Smith, who had given coach Gary Williams an oral commitment and would sign a few weeks later. "I wanted to see who I'd be playing with."

Said Booth, who didn't sign until the following spring, "We didn't know each other and I was still undecided, so we didn't have a lot to say."

Smith and Booth have gotten to know each other well since coming to Maryland last year. And early tomorrow morning -- at 12:01 a.m. to be precise -- they will be sharing the spotlight with Hipp, Simpkins, Rhodes and the rest of the Terrapins when Midnight Madness comes again to Cole Field House.

The theme of this year's festivities, which begin when the doors open at 10:30 p.m., is a celebration of last season's Sweet 16 team. The event is free and T-shirts will be given to the first 5,000 to arrive.

Maryland coach Gary Williams is hoping that the crowd will exceed the 10,000 that showed up in a driving rainstorm two years ago to listen to Dick Vitale hype a team that finished the year with a 12-16 record.

This time, there is no need for Vitale -- bay-bee!

"I'm hoping for about 13,000. We'll see," Williams, starting his sixth year at Maryland, said with a wry smile. "Certainly we shouldn't be at the point where anybody's blase about it."

The players aren't. Although the program also will include an exhibition by the Bud Lite Daredevils, a light show and scrimmages by both the men's and women's teams followed by an autograph session with the players and coaches, Williams' team will be the featured attraction.

Especially Smith, who came out of obscurity last season to average 19.4 points and 10.7 rebounds a game, becoming a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference player, the ACC's Rookie of the Year and an honorable mention All-American.

"I'm starting to feel a lot of the excitement," said Smith, who is a preseason first-team All-American in several publications. "I'm anxious to get the season started."

The rest of the local landscape features coaching changes at Loyola and Morgan State, two teams -- Towson State and UMBC -- that will play in a conference that has lost its automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, and powerful Coppin State, which is looking to atone for a stunning defeat that ruined its postseason hopes last spring.

Coppin State, coming off its second straight undefeated regular-season walk through the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, returns all five starters from last year's 22-8 team, including the MEAC Player of the Year, Stephen Stewart.

But the Eagles, picked to win their fifth MEAC crown in the past six years, are determined to erase their postseason collapse -- a 61-60 defeat to Morgan State in the first round of the conference tournament.

Navy, which made a surprising appearance in the NCAA tournament last season after sharing the Patriot League title, expects a veteran cast to produce another good year.

"It's realistic to think we'll improve this season," said coach Don DeVoe, "but it's usually difficult repeating as conference champions."

Morgan State, which eased the pain of its last-place finish in the MEAC by upsetting Coppin in the tournament, will carry on with interim coach Lynn Ramage. He assisted Michael Holmes for four years, then took over when Holmes was fired in April, following his fourth straight losing season. Ramage will be working without last year's top player, junior forward Gerald Jordan, who has transferred to Pitt.

Loyola also welcomes first-year coach Brian Ellerbe, a nine-year assistant who left Virginia after four years to replace Skip Prosser, who guided the Greyhounds to their first NCAA tournament appearance in his rookie year as head coach. A month later, Prosser returned to Xavier (Ohio) to replace Pete Gillen.

Ellerbe faces a stiff challenge and heightened expectations at Evergreen. He lost fifth-year seniors Tracy Bergan and Michael Reese -- the heart of last year's team. Senior forward B. J. Pendleton and sophomore guard Darius Johnson are the key starters returning.

"People are curious about the team and how they're going to build on last year," Ellerbe said.

UMBC and Towson State are in the unenviable positions of playing a full season with no hope of going to the NCAA tournament, since the Big South has lost its automatic qualifier.

UMBC hopes to improve greatly on last year's injury-hampered, 6-21 season, the worst of five straight losing years under seven-year coach Earl Hawkins, who is in the final year of his contract.

The lack of an automatic NCAA bid hastened Towson State senior guard Scooter Alexander's decision to redshirt this year.

"I'm trying not to send a signal that we're writing this season off," said Tigers coach Terry Truax, who will depend heavily on the backcourt of juniors Ralph Blalock and Quintin Moody and sophomore point guard Michael Keyes. "We've had good consistency in recent years, and we don't want to be a 5-20 team."

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