Terps couldn't be happier in new home

Comcast, says Gilchrist, `took my breath away'

College Basketball

October 10, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - They sat and stared, admiring their new home. They looked at the shiny floor and the sea of bright red seats and the luxury suites and the huge scoreboard with its four video screens. They wondered how loud the crowd will be when the place is packed on a typical game night.

For the first time since they won the first national men's basketball championship in school history six months ago, the Maryland Terrapins formally gathered yesterday on a court they are just getting to know.

And to a man on Maryland's annual media day, the Terps pronounced the brand-new Comcast Center arena a huge hit.

"When I first saw the building, I was shocked. It took my breath away. Obviously, this is one of the best places to play in the country," freshman point guard John Gilchrist said.

"To have the opportunity to play here in front of 17,000 people night in and night out, I'm going to play my tail off. I can't wait to open up this gym and get the party started."

The party officially begins tomorrow night with Midnight Madness festivities. And this will be unlike any other previous celebration marking the beginning of the preseason.

Admission will be free, but for the first time in Maryland history, Midnight Madness will be a ticketed event, in order to meet the joint demands brought on by the national title and the opening of the new arena.

The Terps, who include five seniors and five new recruits, are eager to get a feel for their new digs. The newcomers already are sold in a big way.

"In high school, coming from Maine, our shoes might have been a year old. We might have worn shorts that were used and weren't even clean. You come here and everything is nice and clean and ready for you," said freshman Nik Caner-Medley, who will compete for the starting job at small forward.

"I think it's going to be a great atmosphere. The people on last year's team paved the way for another tradition that's going to start at Maryland."

"I've never been in a building like this," added junior forward Jamar Smith, who transferred from Allegany College and voiced one significant difference between the Comcast Center and the Terps' former home, Cole Field House. "I'm just glad they've got air-conditioning here."

The players also looked at the arena's west wall, where a steep bank of seats - reserved for students seems to hover over the floor. Visiting teams will shoot free throws at that end of the court in the second half.

"I hope some fans don't fall down. It might be dangerous up there," said Caner-Medley.

For the veterans, such as senior shooting guard Drew Nicholas, getting comfortable at the new arena will be part of the challenge associated with following a championship team that lost four starters.

"We're so used to coming out of that back tunnel at Cole. This will be a new experience for us," Nicholas said. "I remember things like the Allfirst signs on the [Cole] floor were slippery spots.

"There are little things we have to get adjusted to. The rims here will probably be tight. The floor has a lot of bounce to it. You're going to see some guys dunk who really can't dunk. We want to see exactly how loud this place can get."

So does coach Gary Williams, who is still learning his way around the new place. Williams said he still occasionally takes the wrong exit onto the campus some mornings, instinctively heading toward Cole Field House.

Williams suspects the first real gauge of crowd noise - Cole was legendary in that area - will come on Nov. 24, when the Terps open the season against Miami (Ohio).

"I want to know what it feels like coming out of the locker room, what the noise is like," Williams said. "Friday will help. That first exhibition game [Nov. 12 against the Harlem Globetrotters] will help, but you've got to get the real basketball crowd here. That will be on Nov. 24."

Midnight Madness

What:University of Maryland men's and women's basketball teams open practice for 2002-2003 season

When:Tomorrow, 10:45 p.m.

Where:Comcast Center, College Park

Admission:Tickets are free and can be reserved at the Terps' ticket office at Comcast Center, TicketMaster outlets, or at www.ticketmaster.com

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