Blend of young, old fuels Terps' success 4th straight ACC win possible at FSU today

February 10, 1996|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Exree Hipp took one look at freshman Laron Profit and knew right away he had found a kindred spirit at Maryland.

Like Profit, Hipp had been a spindly freshman once, with acrobatic skills and a penchant for high-wire performances.

Like Hipp, Profit had come to Maryland to make a name for himself.

"When Laron came in at 180 pounds, he kind of reminded me of myself," Hipp said, peering into the past. "I took to him right away."

When Maryland visits Florida State today, the Terps will try to ride a blissful merger of youth and experience to their fourth straight Atlantic Coast Conference victory.

The Hipp-to-Profit transition is one of several being played out at College Park this season. On a team that numbers four cagey seniors, three precocious freshmen have meshed in a way not expected or predicted, given Maryland's recent history.

Three years ago, when Hipp, Duane Simpkins, Johnny Rhodes and Mario Lucas represented the heralded recruiting class that was going to revive Maryland's moribund program, the mix between youth and experience wasn't nearly as blissful.

"When I was a freshman, it was more difficult because the seniors at the time thought we were stepping on their toes a little bit," Simpkins said. "There was a little resentment.

"We never did click."

Clash was more like it.

Simpkins inadvertently may have bred ill will when he said coming in that he wanted to start as a freshman point guard, despite the fact the Terps had senior Kevin McLinton at the position.

"That," Hipp said in hindsight, "set the tone.

"We weren't welcomed too warmly. There was so much publicity we were getting that they [Maryland's seniors at the time] weren't getting. They were on the way out the door. A lot of things we tell the freshmen now -- how to deal with things -- we didn't get ourselves. We had to learn on our own.

"We weren't looking for senior leadership because there was none."

Those were testy times at Maryland. Coach Gary Williams' fourth Maryland team went 12-16 -- and only 2-14 in the ACC -- in the 1992-93 season. He thinks the memory of that experience helped pave the way for the unique bond that links one Maryland era with another this season.

"Our seniors were more secure coming into this year because of the success they had and the seniors back then didn't have," Williams said.

"I think that's a credit to our seniors. . . That's one of the good things they've done this year. They were really open to the three freshmen fitting in."

Just as Hipp took Profit under his wing, Simpkins and Terrell Stokes forged a sound relationship at the point. And even though he's a junior, power forward Keith Booth helped smooth the transition from Joe Smith to 6-foot-9 freshman Obinna Ekezie.

Ekezie said he saw as early as the team's pickup games last fall that the blend would work.

"The seniors treated us like part of the team right away, saw that we were here to contribute to the team success," said Ekezie, who has started the last seven games and eight overall. "It was cool that everybody was willing to listen to us and help us out. When you are a senior, most people are going to think about themselves."

Apparently, the freshmen aren't bashful about speaking up, either.

"They've got a voice," Hipp said. "If Terrell sees something in the game he thinks we could do differently, he talks up. He'll say, 'Yo, we can do this better.'

"People tend to listen to Terrell because he's such a great guy. He's been able to handle the pressure. Obinna's been very vocal in practice lately. The young guys are stepping up and wanting to respond. . . and it's really helping the team."

Ekezie has given the Terps (12-7, 5-4) a physical force inside, Stokes gives them a pure passer at the point, and Profit, in fewer minutes, a promise of things to come.

Booth has gotten credit for providing the team with an emotional lift as it won six of its last seven games. But he deflects that to the exuberant freshmen.

"It starts with the younger guys," he said. "We get our emotion from them. To see them respond like they do gets the older guys going."

Responding to their increased playing time, Williams said, is what ultimately makes it all work.

"Laron, Obinna and Terrell are nice guys," he said. "They're competitors, they won't back up and they play. If you're a player, that's all you want, is the other guys to play."

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