- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 24, 2002

Late this afternoon, the 2002 national championship banner will be unfurled from the rafters of Comcast Center. Moments later, the Maryland basketball team will officially move forward from the greatest season in its history.
The 12th-ranked Terrapins play Miami of Ohio in what will be a first on several counts. After spending the past 47 seasons in Cole Field House, Maryland will play its first official game in the lavish $125million arena. Also, for the first time, the Terps will begin defense of a national title in their opener.
"I want the players to enjoy that opening ceremony," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who begins his 14th season at his alma mater. "But at the same time, you have to prepare for the game. You have to be able to turn that off and put the emotion all back into the game. That's easy for me to say and tough for me to do sometimes."
The Terps will have a decidedly different look from a season ago.
Four starters are gone, with All-American Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter and Chris Wilcox now in the NBA. Point guard Steve Blake is the only returnee. The 6-foot-3 senior is the top returning scorer, even though he was fifth on the team last season with an 8.0 average. He will be joined in the starting lineup by last season's top three reserves, all seniors. Drew Nicholas takes over for Dixon at shooting guard, while power forward Tahj Holden and center Ryan Randle inherit the frontcourt.
Senior Calvin McCall, who had a limited role as a reserve last season, is expected to be the starter at small forward. However, a class of five talented newcomers will figure prominently. Freshman Nik Caner-Medley, a rebounding maven, will push McCall at small forward. Freshman point guard John Gilchrist will be part of a three-guard lineup and also will back up Blake and Nicholas.
"We are trying to blend everybody," said Williams, who hopes to develop an eight- or possibly nine-man rotation. "Last year at this time we had a pretty good idea of the rotation and had everything pretty much in place. It was a matter of how well we played. This year we are looking at what's the best combination to get out there, and who of the new guys can really step in and contribute."
Travis Garrison, a 6-8 freshman and McDonald's All-American from DeMatha High School, and 6-9 Jamar Smith, a junior college All-American last season at Allegany (Md.) College, are the top reserves among the big men. Freshman shooting guard Chris McCray is the other member of the new class. The last Maryland freshman to have a significant role was Blake, who started during the 1999-2000 season.
"They don't have time to sit back and watch their first year," Holden said. "They're going to have to come in and play right away."
The preseason play of Caner-Medley and Gilchrist suggests they are ready. Garrison and Smith are not far behind.
Maryland also will experience its new facility in its full glory. The Terps played two exhibition games in a partially filled arena while some curious fans toured the modern venue and others missed parts of the first game because of traffic snafus. It remains to be seen whether Comcast can be nearly as intimidating as raucous Cole.
The Terps, who were 15-0 at home in their final season at Cole, bring in the nation's longest homecourt winning streak against non-conference foes, 84 games. Miami arrives after losing its opener Friday night to Purdue 73-46.
"We will get to see the building as it should be," Williams said of the 17,950-seat facility that's complete with luxury boxes, and easy-access concessions and restrooms. "The exhibition games are nice and everything, but it's not the same as a regular-season game. Now, we'll get a look at how it looks with the students in the seats [surrounding the court] where they are supposed to be, and the season ticket-holding crowd will be here."
After six weeks of practice at Comcast, the Terps feel they have figured out its nuances and are comfortable with the sight lines.
"I would like to say I know it pretty well," said Blake, the program's all-time leader in assists with 751. "I have been hitting a lot of shots."
Blake will be asked to score more to make up for the loss of last season's firepower, while Nicholas, who had 32 points in an exhibition game against the Harlem Globetrotters, is expected to be the scoring leader.
Tonight the Terps will savor last season's glory one last time and then start investigating an uncertain future.
"Last year is over. We have to focus on what we have to do this year," Holden said. "When you have guys who are talented like our freshmen class and our five seniors, we are going to do a lot of damage."


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