- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2002

SYRACUSE, N.Y. Byron Mouton will look across to the other sideline tonight and see what might have been. Maryland's small forward committed to Kentucky in his senior year of high school (1997) before a Wildcats coaching change made him change his mind.
Mouton verbally committed to Kentucky when Rick Pitino coached the storied program. But when Pitino moved to the Boston Celtics, Mouton wasn't familiar enough with new coach Tubby Smith to sign a binding letter-of-intent.
Pitino's sudden departure led Mouton to College Park in a roundabout way. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound senior started his career at Tulane but transferred from the New Orleans school after his sophomore season.
"That was my dream, to play for Kentucky," said Mouton, who grew up in Rayne, La. "It hurt my heart that he left, and I was so depressed. I decided I would go to a school in Louisiana."
The three schools he considered after Tulane were Kentucky, Connecticut and Maryland. Mouton chose the Terps largely because he has family in the Washington area.
Mouton finds it interesting that the three schools he looked at are in the East Region semifinals at the Carrier Dome. "That's real crazy," he said with a wide smile. "If you think about it, we might have a chance to play both [Kentucky and UConn]. I never thought about it like that."
Mouton played against Connecticut this season in the BB&T; Classic, but has never faced Kentucky. He did sit on the bench in street clothes as Maryland split two meetings with the Wildcats during the 1999-2000 season because he was ineligible after transferring.
Odd team out
Southern Illinois forward Rolan Roberts looked up at the banners hanging in the Carrier Dome displaying the four teams in the regional: Maryland, Connecticut, Kentucky and Southern Illinois. The Terps, Huskies and Wildcats have combined for 20 Sweet 16 appearances in the last 10 seasons, while the Salukis are making their first since 1977, when the tournament field was 32 teams.
Roberts said his reaction was obvious: "What are we doing here?"
Eleventh-seeded Southern Illinois (28-7), which upset No.6 seed Texas Tech and No.3 Georgia to make it to Syracuse, actually has as many victories as Maryland, nearly beat Illinois and upset Indiana in the regular season. The Fighting Illini and Hoosiers also are in the Sweet 16.
The Salukis are led by Roberts, a Potomac High School graduate who attended Virginia Tech for three seasons before transferring to the Carbondale, Ill., school. He averages 13.9 points to go with guard Kent Williams' 15.6, and both were named to the All-Missouri Valley Conference first team.
"It's been fun we're just living it up right now because we don't know when it is going to end," Williams said.
Although they are doing their best to fit in, the Salukis showed they are a bit new to the big stage. When asked to comment on how their success in the tournament had changed things for them, Roberts went a little too far.
"The only thing that happened to me was, I went to the CD store and got a few free CDs," he said. Then, realizing "free CDs" don't usually sit well with the NCAA, Roberts quickly grabbed the microphone as his eyes got big, and blurted, "I paid for 'em."
Staying South
Connecticut played its first- and second-round games in the District last week, and with the university on spring break this week, coach Jim Calhoun elected to keep the Huskies away from Storrs, Conn. They spent the week in Baltimore, practicing twice at Morgan State, visited the Aquarium and the Inner Harbor and saw two movies.
"The NCAA said we had to go north, so we did 45 miles. We weren't going back to the cold," Calhoun said. He added that he didn't want to go back to Connecticut to have Huskies fans "tell them how good they are. I'm not going to do that," he said.


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