Hyped Terps offer a look Expected top 5 team gives first glimpse in exhibition vs. Aussies

Francis key to expectations

Senior returnees push talented newcomers

November 04, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- The coaching staff left the court at the conclusion of a Maryland basketball practice early last week, but the evening's work wasn't done. Point guard Terrell Stokes and the other seniors coaxed four newcomers back out on the Cole Field House floor for some additional schooling in the Terps' half-court offense.

"We've got a lot of new guys who are expected to play, and they're having a lot of things thrown at them," Stokes said. "I thought they needed a little more time with the offense. No coaches, just players. I think you learn better without coaches hollering at you. They were open to it."

Maryland has three senior starters and two sophomores back from a Sweet 16 team, but the integration of all three new components will determine how well the Terps fulfill the great expectations that have been heaped on them.

Coach Gary Williams' 10th Maryland team plays the first of its two exhibition games tonight (8 o'clock) at Cole against the Australian All-Stars. While Williams knows little about the opponent other than the fact that he expects to see the best players from Down Under, the Terps are being propped up from coast to coast.

Maryland is expected to be ranked as high as No. 5 when the preseason Associated Press poll is released tomorrow.

Junior-college transfer Steve Francis is quick, talented and rated among the nation's premier guards even though he has yet to play a game at the Division I level. Francis considered entering the NBA draft last spring, and a prominent role for him is a given, but how much playing time three freshmen receive is up to them.

Forward Lonny Baxter and wing guards Juan Dixon and Danny Miller are in the freshman class that has been overlooked in the hype surrounding Francis.

Miller had the most decorated high school career, as he was a McDonald's and Parade All-American. A 6-foot-8, 205-pounder who's bigger than the average guard, Miller was the central figure at Rancocas Valley (N.J.) High for the last three years. He's adjusting to being a supporting player.

"When you play against better competition, it's going to limit what you can do," said Miller, sporting a silver dollar-sized bruise on his right bicep. "I'm just trying to go with the flow. I expect to contribute right away, and that's why the seniors took the extra time last week to walk us through some of the offense. We've got to do it right from the start."

The newcomers have seen only half of Maryland's half-court sets. Williams himself needs to learn more, namely who can produce? Miller does many things well, Dixon has scored in practice and Baxter has impressed, but even a Brian Watkins, a senior forward who was in just nine games last year, has pushed for a place in the rotation.

"That's what we'll use the exhibition games for, to see where those guys fit in," said Williams, who wouldn't divulge tonight's starting lineup.

Stokes has done nothing since last January to merit losing his spot at the point. On one wing, Profit is a preseason first-team ACC all-star. Francis, the NJCAA All-American from Takoma Park, figures to start at the other. Center Obinna Ekezie has started since midway in his freshman year.

Terence Morris may get the other baseline spot over fellow sophomore Mike Mardesich. Despite his fine range, Morris could be Maryland's best offensive rebounder and shot blocker.

"Is it better to play Terence Morris at the three [small forward] or pTC four [power forward]?" Williams said. "What's our best team? If a guy steps up and makes us play with three guards, you do that. You go big if an inside player makes you put him on the court. We have a lot of combinations to play with this year, and we have to find the best one."

NOTE: Tickets, at $16, are available for tonight's exhibition. Tahj Holden, a coveted 6-9 forward from Little Silver, N.J., still hasn't decided which college he'll sign with when the early national letter of intent period opens next week. Holden will choose among Maryland, Clemson and Syracuse.

Pub Date: 11/04/98

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