Williams' entrance not grand

At Madness, Terps coach tones it down, stresses team concept for coming season


COLLEGE PARK -- There was no motorcycle ride, or any other memorable Gary Williams stunt at Maryland Madness last night: The surprise, instead, was no surprise.

In fact, it was more like a saunter, a stroll to midcourt.

Nonetheless, the crowd at Comcast Center was still on its feet as the men's basketball team walked together through a cloud of smoke and bursts of flame last night, just before 10 p.m. It was the first time since 1971 that the tip-off to the Terps' season began before the stroke of midnight.

This year, Williams said, is going to be different.

"Our theme tonight is team," said Williams, who is trying to take his team from the National Invitation Tournament, where it finished last year, back to the NCAA tournament, where it's been for 11 of the past 12 seasons. "I think the last two years have been great, but a little bit individual. We're trying to be more of a team like the New England Patriots, the way they're introduced."

Williams' surprise entrance has typically been a highlight of the night. Two years ago he zipped in riding a motorcycle and last year drove a car provided by NASCAR. But yesterday, Williams sneaked in early to chat with some of his former players in the alumni game.

Still, many of the younger students said they came simply to get a firsthand look at the sometimes-volatile coach.

"He's great," said Tanveer Huq, a sophomore from Silver Spring. "His face turns the color of Maryland."

It was also a flashy show for 23 recruits in prime seats. Maryland's Gymkana team brought the crowd to its feet by jumping through a flaming hoop and over six of their female teammates, stacked on top of each other on a block already about three feet high.

Shortly after 9 p.m., the lights went out and smoke began to fill the arena. Hip-hop music blared a beat the crowd clapped to as the Maryland women's team was introduced. Laser lights guided coach Brenda Frese to center court, where she thanked the raucous fans for breaking the single-game Atlantic Coast Conference attendance record last season.

Following brief speeches by both coaches, both teams scrimmaged, marking the first official practices of the season.

Senior Nik Caner-Medley said the best part of the night is having the fans see the players in a more relaxed setting.

"During the season it's all business," he said. "This is just a night where we come out and have fun and have some highlights. The fans like to see the dunks and everything like that."

Williams said the event was a "thank you" for fans, and junior David Sober of Baltimore said he's always appreciated it - regardless of what time it started.

"I've been a Maryland basketball fan basically my entire life," said Sober, a graduate of McDonogh. "You know the season is right around the corner when you see the team for the first time. You can bury the frustrations of last year and start new this year. There's a lot of enthusiasm for basketball this year."

Students began to file into the bottom sections of Comcast Center just after 6 p.m., but it's hardly as if they didn't have anything to watch for two hours.

Paul Capriolo, a senior and computer science major, brought March Madness 2006 for fans to play on an Xbox while they waited for the festivities to begin. The video games were shown on the video board. And just like the men's scrimmage, it was Maryland vs. Maryland.

"It's the last time I'm going to step on this court where it's just going to be to have a good time," Caner-Medley said. "After that, practice is going to be hard work."

The real practice begins at 10 a.m. today.


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