4 future Terps stop by for charming visit

All-star participants know Williams to be demanding

Boys basketball

High Schools

April 13, 2003|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

Their official arrival in College Park is still more than three months away, but the newest members of the Maryland basketball team have already heard about the responsibilities that they will harbor.

They know they will join a program that won a national championship just over 12 months ago, but has lost all playing links from that team.

They've heard the buzz that they comprise one of the strongest recruiting classes Terps coach Gary Williams has ever brought in, and realize that on a sophomore-heavy team with only one senior - Jamar Smith, who transferred from Allegany College just last year - contributions from newcomers will not only be needed, they'll be expected.

"I don't think there's more pressure on us," said Ekene Ibekwe, a 6-foot-9 forward out of Carson High School in California. "I think this is a good thing what people are saying about us and I'm just happy I'm a part of it."

Ibekwe, along with three other future Terrapins, are in town for today's Marines Charm City Challenge, a high school all-star game at the Towson Center.

Maryland recruits Ibekwe, Hassan Fofana, a 6-10 center from Worcester, Mass., and Hargrave Military Academy (Va.) and D.J. Strawberry, a 6-4 guard from Mater Dei High School (Santa Ana, Calif.) will play on the U.S. team, which faces the Baltimore All-Stars in the challenge's nightcap at 6 p.m.

The Baltimore All-Stars will be led by Maryland-bound Will Bowers, a 7-foot center from Archbishop Spalding.

The Terps' fifth and highest-rated recruit Mike Jones, a 6-5 shooting guard from Thayer Academy (Mass.), played in the McDonald's All-American game in Cleveland last month, but will not play today.

For Bowers, a Hanover resident, the opportunity to play for a former national champion so close to home proved too much to pass up. Strawberry and Ibekwe, teammates on a California Amateur Athletic Union team, wanted to head east where they think that the schools, especially those in the Atlantic Coast Conference, get more recognition and attention.

Fofana, from the same high school as former Terp Lonny Baxter and current guard Andre Collins, was intrigued by Williams' proven track record with big men.

They know how demanding Williams can be on his players. They've watched enough ACC games and seen Williams ranting and raving on the sideline to know that.

"He might scare me sometimes, but I'll deal with it," said Ibekwe, enjoying a hearty laugh.

All four recruits, who will start taking classes at Maryland this summer, said they are committed to a common goal: keep the Terps among the nation's elite.

"It really doesn't matter if I play that much or not, I just want to get better everyday," said Strawberry, the son of former baseball star Darryl Strawberry. "We all just want to contribute and win games."

The athletic guard made Maryland his first and only visit, saying College Park and the Comcast Center just felt like home. Strawberry, who averaged 14 points a game this past season and was recruited by Florida State, Oregon and DePaul, will likely help the Terps off the bench in both the point and shooting guard slots, behind John Gilchrist and Collins.

A native of Conkary, Guinea, Fofana has played just four seasons of organized basketball - three at Holy Name High School (Mass.) and one at Hargrave Military Academy - but for a 270-pounder, the former soccer player has good quickness and footwork.

It's still in rebounding and blocking shots where Fofana's greatest assets and the Terrapins' biggest question marks lie. Maryland returns only two players who are 6-8 or taller.

"I know if I do what I'm supposed to do, Coach Williams is going to help me get better," said Fofana, who averaged 9.7 points and 8.3 rebounds this season and is considered one of the top 15 high school senior centers.

Bowers, much like Fofana, is considered a work in progress. He has a soft touch for a big man, but is still developing low post moves and a Division I body.

"I just have to work in the weight room really hard and get in better shape so I can compete at an ACC level," said Bowers, who averaged 12.6 points, six rebounds and three blocks for Spalding in the Baltimore Catholic League. "Hopefully, I can get about 10 or 15 minutes a game and help the team win."

Ibekwe, a top 40 player, figures to make much more of an impact. Capable of playing either forward position, Ibekwe is lean and long. He averaged 19 points, 10 rebounds and 4.6 blocks at Carson High School, while flourishing in transition.

He was recruited by Kansas, Arizona and Southern California, but Ibekwe's motivation to attend Maryland was simple. "I've always liked the ACC schools - especially North Carolina," said Ibekwe. "But I don't like them any more.

Williams is hoping the rest of his heralded freshman class are all such quick studies.

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