For 1 night, UM has rhythm

Team opens Maryland Madness with dance number, promises better outcome to season

College basketball

October 14, 2006|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun Reporter

COLLEGE PARK -- It's possible that no Maryland men's basketball team in the program's history has shown the kind of moves that this year's squad did last night.

Certainly not at center court, anyway.

There was head bobbin', shoulder leanin', and even a backflip in the Terps' hip-hop introduction last night at Maryland Madness. Dressed in black wide-brimmed hats, dark sunglasses and black suit jackets - complemented by white T-shirts and their baggy uniform shorts - the players sauntered onto the court to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and stunned the crowd with their choreographed dance moves.

And, yes, Mike Jones looked like a natural, although James Gist gave him some competition.

Coach Gary Williams made a David Copperfield-like entrance in the darkness, as fans were tricked by a false silhouette in the hallway that allowed him to creep onto center court unnoticed. He appeared suddenly with sparks and a fist pump, and a message that "none of us here the last two years have been happy winning 19 games."

"We set the bar high, but we want that bar set high," he said. "They're going to go after it, and we're going to have a great basketball team with your support."

At the end of the night, the players were introduced individually, and each of them came out of the stands giving rowdy fans high-fives as they came down the arena steps en route to a slam-dunk. (Well, Jones connected with the floor instead of the basket.) Freshman Jerome Burney was the lone player wearing a tie instead of a uniform because of a fractured foot.

"It's the opening of the season," senior forward Ekene Ibekwe said. "It feels good to know you've got 20,000 fans that really love you and care about the team."

Williams said that despite entering his 18th season at Maryland, he is still excited for the start of the season.

"It's great," he said. "You just feel the juices going and get yourself fired up. You really start thinking about what you want to do every day in practice."

It was quite a different scene, especially for freshman guard Eric Hayes, who said he has attended the season-opening practice as a fan for the past five years. The players scrimmaged for just 10 minutes last night, but Hayes and his teammates will have their first serious practice of the season at 10 a.m. today.

There clearly was energy and excitement at Comcast Center last night - a contrasting vibe from the last time the men's team played before a crowd here. The Terps ended their season with an embarrassing loss to Manhattan in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.

Last night, they had swagger.

First-year assistant coach Chuck Driesell said he was disappointed he missed his players' show, but he was cooling down after his performance in the alumni game.

"It just brings back old memories," said Driesell, a four-year letter winner from 1981 to 1985, who played under his father, Lefty, and joined the staff in June. "Last year, I was totally relaxed. This year, I've got stuff on my mind. But I'd rather be in this position."

The Terps, who will play their home opener at 8:30 p.m. Nov. 4 against Hampton in the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic, are hoping they, too, are in a different position than they were last year.

Maryland is relying heavily on a talented four-man freshman class - integrated with six seniors - to help it return to the NCAA tournament after failing to earn a bid for the past two seasons.

"We have veterans that know how to play," Williams said. "We've got to get our young guys up to speed where they pick up things. They're quick learners. The thing about our young guys, they're used to winning."

Note -- Williams said he will have a few open scrimmages, and a scrimmage for the students Oct. 25.

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

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