Terps turn serious after fun start

Team back at practice morning after `Madness'

College Basketball

October 17, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The mood was all business when the Maryland basketball team met yesterday morning for its first practice of the college basketball season, but just hours earlier, it was all about fun and games.

The defending Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champions reveled in the attention from a capacity crowd at Comcast Center that started lining up outside the arena for Midnight Madness festivities before the doors opened at 9 p.m. Friday and didn't leave until 12:45 yesterday morning.

When introduced, sophomore guard D.J. Strawberry brushed off his uniform and strutted through the smoke and onto the court while pretending to chat on his cell phone. He then tossed the phone aside and grabbed a basketball, which he promptly dunked.

Sophomore Hassan Fofana, a 6-foot-10, 280-pound center, banked in a three-point shot after not even attempting one all last season. Juniors John Gilchrist and Travis Garrison soaked it all in, stopping at midcourt to pose.

But the grandest entrance belonged to the Terps' 59-year-old coach. Wearing a leather racing jacket and with George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone" blaring over the arena's sound system, Williams arrived on the court, driving a black-and-red "Fear the Turtle" racecar, on loan from local NASCAR Busch Series driver Donnie Neuenberger.

"It was about even," said Williams when asked to compare his anxiety level while arriving in the racecar with how he felt during last year's entrance on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. "I could do more damage on the car, but on that motorcycle, I could have done more damage to myself."

Williams, who praised the crowd for being the "best fans in the country," acknowledged that he was nervous, but he was visibly relaxed throughout the rest of the proceedings as his team went through a light intrasquad scrimmage, heavy on circus shots and showmanship.

At one point, junior point guard Sterling Ledbetter, one of two Terps newcomers, intentionally threw the ball off Gilchrist's back, before starting his move. The other newcomer, freshman James Gist, a 6-8 forward who prepped at Good Counsel and is already drawing comparisons to former Terp Chris Wilcox, also threw down a series of flashy dunks.

The only serious moment came in the waning seconds of the scrimmage when junior forward Nik Caner-Medley collided with a cheerleader behind the basket while chasing down an errant shot. Fortunately, nobody was injured and Maryland started practice yesterday with its team healthy and intact.

"They'll be fired up," Williams said. "The first couple of practices, everyone is excited."

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