- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

The University of Maryland is all over the sports pages these days the Good News pages and the Bad News pages. Let's get the bad news out of the way first. Let's talk about the Football Recruiting Scandal currently plaguing Ralph Friedgen's program.
After two seasons of almost uninterrupted success two bowl games, 21 wins, an ACC title and assorted other accomplishments Friedgen has officially hit his first bump in the road as Terrapins coach. That is, unless the bump turns out to be a ditch. That's the great fear as the law firm brought in by the university goes about its inquisition. The fear is it will turn up other violations that will get the program in even more trouble.
They say the only bad publicity is no publicity, but the Fridge can certainly do without this kind of publicity. The words "possible NCAA sanctions" are, after all, the Big C of college athletics, and Maryland's rivals undoubtedly tried to take advantage of the situation as Signing Day approached. "Why worry about probation?" they could tell the Terps' recruits. "Just come with us."
Maryland made a strong statement, though, by forcing the assistant coach involved into resigning. And that's exactly what should happen when a coach tries to buy a player, as linebackers coach Rod Sharpless is suspected of doing. Zero tolerance no ands, ifs or Johnnie Cochrans about it.
The school believes it's a one-time-only thing, and thus only a minor violation. Still, the next two weeks will be anxious ones as investigators talk not only to Victor Abiamiri, the recruit in question, but to every kid Sharpless has given his sales pitch to over the past three years.
Sharpless has no previous transgressions in his 26 years of recruiting, which makes you wonder: Why now? I mean, it's not as if he should have been feeling insecure about his job. Maryland is coming off its best back-to-back seasons in half a century and one of his charges, E.J. Henderson, was the leading linebacker in the country.
Granted, Abiamiri, a pass-rushing terror from the Gilman School in Baltimore, is the bluest of blue-chippers, but the Terps had a fine recruiting class without him, Friedgen's best yet. And the amount of money involved a reported $300, later returned by the player is so … piddling. It just doesn't make sense.
The answer, I guess, is that coaches are under all kinds of pressure, pressure we can only begin to understand. And the pressure the Maryland football staff might be under right now is the pressure to take that last step and become a national power. The Terps have finished in the Top15 two years in a row, they've squashed Tennessee in the Peach Bowl, but now they want to contend for the Big Prize.
Like the men's basketball team has.
We now begin the Good News portion of the column, the part where I get to gush about Gary Williams' ACC-leading team. Did anybody out there expect the Terps to be 14-4 at this point and ranked eighth by the AP? I sure didn't. How many championship squads can lose four starters four very good starters and not be serious NIT material the next season?
But Williams has added some terrific freshmen plus a useful junior college transfer to holdovers Steve Blake, Drew Nicholas, Ryan Randle, Tahj Holden and Calvin McCall, and, wonder of wonders, Maryland is 10 deep. Ten deep and getting better all the time.
You forget how much it means in college hoops to have an all-senior backcourt. For most top teams, such things are a distant memory; what self-respecting player stays in school for four years anymore? But Blake and Nicholas are one of the better duos around, and their coolness on the floor helps the newcomers relax. They've seen it all, done it all and wouldn't mind doing it again.
Such is the effect of consecutive Final Four appearances. At Maryland (formerly the University of Almost), the whole mindset has changed. The Terps walk on the court now knowing they're going to win (even if they sometimes don't). As a result, they come away with W's that in the past might have been L's that 52-47 uglyfest at Clemson, for instance. Duke has been doing this for ages, of course, occasionally at the Terps' expense.
It took Williams 13 years and many tears but Maryland has an aura now. Just as important, there's continuity. When the seniors are done, Jamar Smith, Travis Garrison, John Gilchrist, Nik Caner-Medley and Chris McCray will carry on. The Terps are what every basketball program aspires to be and what Maryland's football program aspires to be, too.

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