Terps guard Nick Faust dribbles the ball during Maryland Madness… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
COLLEGE PARK — — Mark Turgeon doesn't relish the spotlight — he'd just as soon skip being introduced to crowds — but fortunately for the students at Friday night's Maryland Madness, the Terps men's basketball players don't share their coach's reserve.
Turgeon's players — particularly the highly-touted freshmen — were happy to dance and preen and flex and dunk before several thousand fans at the annual preseason pep rally at Comcast Center.
For the fans, it marked the first appearance of a spirited freshman class considered among Maryland's best since the one following the 2002 national championship season.
The four-member class — there are also three transfers — is full of bravado.
"This is going to be a fun group to watch," Turgeon said with a smile as he watched 6-foot-9, 265-pound freshman center Shaquille Cleare shake his hips after being introduced.
Among those in attendance was Roddy Peters, who is being recruited by Maryland. The 6-4 point guard from Suitland is also being recruited by a number of other top schools. Maryland lost out to Kentucky recently on Andrew and Aaron Harrison, two top guards in the Class of 2013.
Maryland's team members first appeared in black sweatsuits, white masks and white gloves and did a group dance at midcourt.
Turgeon and the players — as well as the women's basketball players and coach Brenda Frese — were then introduced and appeared on a stage as two video boards displayed their pictures and laser lights shone across the court. They debuted four new Under Armour uniforms featuring red, white, black and gold.
Freshman forward Charles Mitchell gyrated on stage and Cleare pointed one finger toward the rafters.
Cleare has already emerged as one of the the team's most lively personalities. He said he was named after longtime basketball star Shaquille O'Neal because he was born around the time O'Neal entered the NBA draft.
"My mom put 'A' and 'B' together and got 'C,' " Cleare said.
Maryland's newcomers also include transfer Logan Aronhalt, a guard who can play immediately because he earned a degree from Albany. Another transfer, Evan Smotrycz from Michigan, has not graduated yet and must sit out the season but participated Friday night.
After being introduced, a third transfer — Dez Wells — picked up a ball and jogged down the court. He lowered the ball to his waist before dunking.
Wells is awaiting an NCAA decision on whether to grant him a waiver so he can play this year. Wells was expelled by Xavier after a sexual-assault allegation that a prosecutor said was unproven, and he was not charged.
Wells would immediately be one of Maryland's top players if he is cleared. He is able to practice with the team while he awaits the NCAA's ruling, and he had a few dunks in Friday night's open scrimmage.
Turgeon was introduced to the crowd last. As he waited behind the stage, a video board message welcomed him back for his second season with the Terps. Among those praising him in the video was former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell.
Turgeon picked up a microphone and told the crowd: "Last year at times wasn't always fun, but we kept getting better."
He handed the microphone to senior James Padgett, who encouraged fans to continue to support the team and said: "Go Terps!"
Turgeon's predecessor, Gary Williams, famously put his imprint on the event in past years. He entered one year in a 17,000-pound Lenco BearCat armored vehicle with an Under Armour insignia on the side. The crowd would typically begin chanting, "Gary, Gary," before the coach walked in and pumped his fist to the fans
Turgeon is more reticent. "I got in the wrong business," he said. "I don't like drawing attention to myself. I can't wait until tomorrow morning at 11 when we practice."
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