COLLEGE PARK -- It was in the afterglow of Sunday's huge win over Missouri that Maryland coach Gary Williams touched lightly on a theme that promises to play handsomely the next three seasons.
Speaking of point guard Terrell Stokes' near-record, 12-assist game, Williams said, perhaps only half in jest, "It's too early for records for Terrell."
They will come, though, just as surely as next season will come.
At a position once manned by John Lucas -- Maryland's quintessential point guard -- Stokes is the real thing.
That much is evident in his three-game stretch of on-the-job training, while senior Duane Simpkins serves an NCAA suspension for attempting to improperly pay a university loan.
With Stokes directing traffic, the Terps' offense achieved season highs in field-goal accuracy (60.3 percent) and in assists (30). Maryland took the ball inside more often and with more success than in recent games.
It was, as much as anything, the hint of things to come.
"It was kind of different," senior forward Exree Hipp said. "When Terrell drives the ball to the rack, more or less he's going to pass the ball. You just want to get where he can see you. He dropped one off to me early in the first half and it was an easy two points.
"He's doing a great job filling in for Duane, but we need Duane back, too."
Stokes became only the third freshman in Maryland history to dish out a dozen -- Williams said on his radio show this week he thought Stokes had more than 12 assists. The elite group includes Keith Gatlin in 1984 and Lucas in 1973.
It was no surprise that one night later, broadcaster Clark Kellogg recognized Stokes as one of the nation's five best freshmen in a segment on ESPN.
"They say I'm under a lot of pressure to start for Duane," Stokes said yesterday. "But I don't think it's a lot of pressure. You just come in and play your game. People are starting to recognize how good of a player I am.
"[Georgia Tech's Stephon] Marbury was getting all the hype, [North Carolina's Antawn] Jamison was getting all the hype and Shareef [Abdur-Rahim of Cal] was getting all the hype. They are doing the same things they did in high school. I was right with them."
Stokes is cut from a different cloth than Marbury, a prolific-scoring point guard for the Yellow Jackets and candidate for Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year with Jamison.
Stokes is a throwback point guard who looks to pass first and shoot second. That's also what separates him from Simpkins, the Terps' third-leading scorer with 12.8 points per game.
"Terrell penetrates very well," Williams said. "He penetrates with the idea he's going to get somebody the ball for an easy shot. Duane is a scorer, our best outside shooter, our best three-point shooter. Duane takes on more responsibility of having to make some shots. They just play different."
Williams will reinstate Simpkins as the starter on Saturday in Clemson. Before then, Stokes gets one more start tomorrow night at North Carolina State. In Maryland's 77-74 overtime win over the Wolfpack in January, Stokes played 22 minutes and came up with two steals, two assists and three points. State coach Les Robinson said he hasn't discerned a noticeable difference in the Terps' offense with Stokes running the show.
"Maryland, a team that plays as many people as they do, in the short stretch seems to be doing fine," Robinson said. "In the long haul in the ACC, it would make it a little tougher [to play without Simpkins]. To say they haven't missed him would be wrong.
"But it didn't show Sunday. [Stokes] has done a great job replacing him. And he was very effective against us at College Park."
Stokes accepts the fact that the starting job is only temporary -- for now.
"I have no problem with that," he said. "Duane's been doing it for three years. And I've got another three years to go."