- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 26, 2002

The first few weeks of practice have been different for Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams this fall.

After two straight trips to the Final Four with veteran squads that culminated in a national championship last season, Williams has five newcomers this season. Gone are stalwarts Lonny Baxter, Juan Dixon and Byron Mouton, as well as their knowledge of Williams' system. Obviously, Williams has done more instructing this month.

"The teaching thing is different," Williams said. "You have to teach more. There's a lot more going on after practice, before practice. We work with individual freshmen, trying to get them to understand a play better. It takes more time this year to prepare for practice.

"Every day you're thinking about what you can do to help a certain player, where last year it was just getting the team ready to play because you didn't have to go over things very often. Everybody knew what they were supposed to do."

Predictably, the freshmen have struggled at times to adapt to the college game, but unlike recent Maryland teams they have time to adjust. The Terrapins begin the season Nov.24 the program's latest start since 1996 against Miami of Ohio at Comcast Center. Last season Maryland began Nov.8 in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. In 2000, the Terps played three games in as many days in the Maui Invitational.

"I'm glad we're not playing Nov.8 this year just because our team is different," Williams said. "We had our top seven back last year, and [when] you lose four guys the caliber of the guys we lost, you have to do some things differently to get the new guys ready to play. We probably wouldn't be ready Nov.8."

Williams remembers doing about as much teaching three years ago when then-freshman Steve Blake joined three sophomores and a junior in the starting lineup. Even then, there were only three freshmen learning the college game. At times this month, all five newcomers have played together against the Terps' experienced players.

"It's hard to learn when you're playing on a team when no one really knows what's going on," senior forward Tahj Holden said. "When they're all on the same team, it's hard to learn from each another."

The newcomers already have come under the wing of the Terps' veterans. Senior guards Blake and Drew Nicholas are tutoring freshmen John Gilchrist and Chris McCray. Forwards Holden and Ryan Randle are helping freshman Travis Garrison and junior college transfer Jamar Smith. Veteran reserve Calvin McCall and freshman Nik Caner-Medley both play small forward.

However, that doesn't mean the transition to the college game has been easy.

"You always go through that period when you have new guys that when they're trying to learn new players, they get tentative because they're not as sure of the plays as the guys from last year who know the plays," Williams said. "As they learn the plays, they get back to playing naturally. There's just time right about now until they learn the plays. It's a hard time for the new guys."

Williams' patience is appreciated by Caner-Medley, who can see all the newcomers progressing.

"Coach Williams understands that we're going to make mistakes," Caner-Medley said. "He understands that every once in a while we're going to make the wrong cut in the offense, but I think we're doing a good job of learning. He's such a good teacher that it's made it easy for me. All you have to do is listen."

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