- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

Construction sounds filled the air as the final pieces of Comcast Center were put in place yesterday afternoon.
Across the arena from the noise, Maryland coach Gary Williams spoke about the upcoming basketball season in the sparkling venue. The Terrapins will unveil their national championship banner in the Nov. 24 season opener at their new home, and then move on to life after Juan (Dixon) and Lonny (Baxter).
A game with Miami of Ohio will be the first test for the Terps, who are going through their own reconstruction. The team will be a lot different than the one that cut down the nets in the Georgia Dome last April, when the Terps won the program's first national title.
"We do face a challenge this year," said Williams, who begins his 14th season at his alma mater. "You lose four guys that are currently with NBA teams obviously they were good players. I have always said that you don't win no matter how good a coach you are without good players."
Williams will begin finding out what kind of players he has when practice opens at Midnight Madness tomorrow night. Point guard Steve Blake is the only starter returning from the championship squad, and Maryland will rely heavily on five newcomers.
But the core of the club will be seasoned seniors as the top three reserves are back. Blake will start alongside swingman Drew Nicholas, power forward Tahj Holden and center Ryan Randle. The veterans were critical last season, but will have to go from role players to stars. The Terps have been given little chance of repeating last season's feats, and Maryland is widely considered a marginal top-20 team without Dixon (Wizards), Baxter (Bulls), Chris Wilcox (Clippers) or Byron Mouton (Celtics).
"We won the national championship because we had four seniors that led us, but also because we have guys like myself, Drew and those guys that came off the bench," said Blake, Maryland's all-time assist leader who will be asked to raise his 8.0 point average. "It's a little disappointing when people put us down like that."
Maryland (32-4 last season) should boast one of the nation's best backcourts with Blake and Nicholas, who will pick up the role of offensive catalyst after averaging 7.1 points as Dixon's understudy. The Terps will have little experience behind them, with sophomore Andre Collins and freshmen John Gilchrist and Chris McCray.
Holden and Randle are secure but the small forward spot has no heir apparent. Senior Calvin McCall will get a shot, but it is more likely that a newcomer will ultimately win the job. Nik Caner-Medley, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound freshman, is the early favorite. He is competing with 6-9 junior college transfer Jamar Smith and 6-8 freshman Travis Garrison.
"Playing time had a lot to do with me coming here," said Garrison, a DeMatha High graduate and the only McDonald's All-American on the Terps' roster. "I wanted to come in and play as a freshman. So that was a big issue."
There is plenty of playing time available. Dixon recorded nearly 34 minutes a game and led the team with his 20.4 points. The Terps will try to make up for Baxter's 8.2 rebounds a night, Wilcox's high-flying heroics and Mouton's contagious scrappiness.
Williams showed off his oversized championship ring yesterday, but plans to put it away once practice starts to emphasize it is a new season.
"We're the defending champions," Williams said. "Nobody else is. So we'll see how it goes."
Notes: Hassan Fofana became Maryland's fourth recruit for next season. The 6-10, 270-pound center is playing for Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia. He is from Massachusetts and played at Holy Name Central Catholic High in Worcester. Fofana will be the third Hargrave player to come to Maryland recently, along with Baxter and Collins.



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