Curtain rises tonight on young Terps team

Five freshmen will debut in UM's exhibition opener

November 12, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - If you're wondering what to make of the Maryland men's basketball team, get in the line that starts with Terrapins coach Gary Williams.

Williams will be somewhat like the thousands of observers who'll come to Comcast Center tonight to watch Maryland open its exhibition season against the EA Sports All-Stars.

He will be curious to see how this extremely young squad will respond in its first audition, how this group dominated by newcomers and second-year players will run the offense and guard its opponent, how such an inexperienced collection of talent will act while being pushed by a team other than itself.

After nearly four weeks of running drills and intrasquad scrimmages, of teaching offensive plays and defensive sets, of looking at various combinations of players in differing roles, Williams is hungry for a clue.

"Let's face it. Two years ago, I probably could have slept through the exhibition games. Not this year," Williams said. "I'll be more nervous for the season opener [against American on Nov. 22], but I'll be ready [tonight].

"This is an important game for us. Win or lose, it's important to go against people we have to play. Sometimes you get fooled in practice. It's hard to tell how well guys are playing. We'll find out [tonight]."

Williams said the last time Maryland lost an exhibition contest was 10 years ago against an all-star team from Australia, prior to the 1993-94 season. That was the year the Terps were led by freshmen Joe Smith and Keith Booth and sophomores Duane Simpkins, Johnny Rhodes and Exree Hipp.

This year's edition is the one that most closely resembles the squad from a decade ago, in terms of youth. The Smith-Booth club started the program's current run of 10 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, and made the first of seven Sweet 16 trips Maryland has earned since that breakthrough.

The 2003-04 Terps, from top to bottom, are the most inexperienced team Williams has handled. They are graced by five freshmen, including Parade All-Americans Mike Jones (guard) and Ekene Ibekwe (power forward), and guard D.J. Strawberry, who showed the ability to play several positions in Maryland's recent Red-Black scrimmage, getting 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists.

Among the sophomores, point guard John Gilchrist and forward Nik Caner-Medley, who started 18 games last year, lead the way. Then there is senior forward/center Jamar Smith, a second-year player out of Allegany Community College.

For the first time since the 1999-2000 season, Maryland is unranked in the preseason. The Terps received 77 votes, barely missing the Top 25.

The Terps will face a 2-5 EA Sports team that has lost to all three of its Atlantic Coast Conference opponents - Duke, Wake Forest and North Carolina State - by a combined 65 points.

Maryland will start Gilchrist and sophomore Chris McCray at guard, Caner-Medley and sophomore Travis Garrison at forward and Smith at center.

Terps tonight

Matchup: EA Sports All-Stars vs. Maryland (exhibition)

Site: Comcast Center, College Park

Time: 8

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/ WBAL (1090 AM)

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