Out of their shells Terrapins: Unbeaten men's basketball team at College Park easing pain of area sports fans.

December 09, 1998

THE Environmental Protection Agency may soon consider the Baltimore-Washington area as a Superfund site for professional sports: The football teams in both cities have been so bad that the only suspense is guessing which coach will lose his job first.

The perennially disappointing D.C. basketball team is sidelined by a labor dispute. Washington's hockey team has limited appeal, in spite of making it to the championship round last season. And the baseball team that both cities share created animosity by signing a surly, if talented, free agent.

So why were area fans huddled around TVs in shopping malls, bars and living rooms last weekend? To watch the men's basketball team from the University of Maryland, College Park, of course.

The team beat Stanford on Sunday to maintain its No. 2 ranking and won again Monday against DePaul, its 10th straight win.

The squad is led by junior Steve Francis and senior Laron Profit. As with many of the best college teams, however, the most recognizable face belongs to the coach, Gary Williams. Third-graders presently wowing their gym teachers may someday play at Cole Field House for Mr. Williams, who just signed a contract extension that could run through mid-2008. Athletic Director Debbie Yow wisely secured the long-term services of the former Terrapin player, who displays the passion of a good teacher as well as a skilled coach.

He was recruited to rebuild a proud program broadsided by the 1986 cocaine-induced death of Len Bias. Mr. Williams encountered his own problems, such as players who shirked their responsibility to pay parking tickets or, more important, to graduate. The team once had among the lowest graduation rates in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but SAT scores for recent freshmen are among the highest in this region. Continued gains in that area will make victories on the court all the more significant.

Pub Date: 12/09/98

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