Terps turn to bigger thoughts on court Recruits bring size to Madness tonight

October 17, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- As he strutted around Cole Field House in his home white uniform, University of Maryland point guard Terrell Stokes was all smiles. And when asked about the coming basketball season, Stokes was confident.

But then Stokes was asked about the lingering effects from his team's first-round NCAA tournament loss to the College of Charleston. And that's when his mood changed. Drastically.

"Every time I think about it, every time," Stokes began, his voice trailing off.

After a brief pause, he continued.

"People won't look at the 20-win season, people will forget all about that," he said, referring to the team's 21-11 finish. "They'll look at 1997, and Maryland lost in the first round. They'll look at 1996, and Maryland lost to Santa Clara in the first round. People will go on how you played your last game. That's reality."

The reality of the 1997 tournament loss, 75-66 to the College of Charleston, is what the Terrapins will look to shed just past midnight tonight with the official start of practice for the 1997-98 basketball season. Those attending tonight's "Midnight Madness" (which will include a dance routine by the players, coach Gary Williams not included) will notice a big change in this year's team, a change they hope will compensate for the loss of team leader Keith Booth.

The difference? Size. And lots of it.

"We have a lot of guys who are big inside, and I'm excited," said 6-foot-10 center Obinna Ekezie, who finally has teammates he can look at nearly eye-to-eye -- and even one he can look up to. "Now I can go in and be as aggressive as I can, knowing that someone can come in for me if I get in foul trouble."

And that has got to be pleasing to Williams, who will more than welcome 7-foot center Mike Mardesich, 6-foot-8 forward Terence Morris and 6-foot-7 forward Le- Ron Cephas -- all freshmen. Depending on the development of those newcomers as well as 6-foot-9 junior forward Brian Watkins, 6-foot-8 senior forward Rodney Elliott (Dunbar) and Ekezie, Williams might get a chance to see his team flex some muscle in the paint.

"We've got some versatility," Williams said. "Last year when Obinna and Keith got in foul trouble, we got small in a hurry. That won't happen this year."

Whether that size -- as well as the needed contributions from junior swingman Laron Profit, senior guard Sarunas Jasikevicius and Stokes -- will help the team gain the toughness needed to avoid the disappointing tournament pitfalls of the last two years remains to be seen. The Terrapins will face some stiff tests early, with three of their first six games against top-10 teams South Carolina, Clemson and Kansas.

"I think we're good enough to play these teams," Williams said. "We feel that's where we want to be this year with this schedule."

Where the Terrapins want to be on the recruiting end is in competition with some of the bigger-name blue-chip players like newcomer Morris who, at Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, averaged 19.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and five blocks. Those numbers earned him a second-team All-America selection and a ranking among the top 10 high school players in the nation. Maryland will get another blue-chip prospect next year with the verbal commitment this week from Lonnie Baxter, a 6-foot-7, 250-pound forward from Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia.

"I like the idea of competing for the best players in the country and getting them to go to Maryland," Williams said.

He'd like even better for a successful season, especially one that gets past the first round of the NCAA tournament. A step toward achieving that goal begins at midnight tonight.

"I think we have something to prove, losing in the first round the past two years," Stokes said. "The way I feel, Kansas, Clemson whoever, let's go out and play now."

Pub Date: 10/17/97

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