- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

Maryland guard John Gilchrist doesn’t mind starting a long basketball season with a late-night workout. After all, the sophomore is eager to see whether the Terrapins — with five freshmen replacing seniors who helped win the 2001 national championship — can regroup and make their 11th straight NCAA tournament appearance.

“It’s like a brand-new car on the lot,” Gilchrist said. “You don’t just want to let it sit there; you want to see how good it can be. This team has a lot of potential. We can be a [defending champion] Syracuse or any other young team that’s not ready. I prefer to be a Syracuse.”

Maryland already has distributed 19,500 tickets — 1,600 more than for games — for tonight’s Midnight Madness at Comcast Center. The men’s and women’s teams will scrimmage following an alumni game at 10:55 p.m., and men’s coach Gary Williams hopes the raucous atmosphere will show the freshmen the intensity that surrounds ACC contests.

“It really helps the players if this place is crazy that night because it gives you a preview of what a game would be like here even though the crowd is a little different,” he said. “This is the second year of Comcast Center. It’s time to make it a pit now.”

Unlike the last two years, when the lineup was virtually set before the first practice, the Terps’ starting five is largely uncertain because the roster includes nine underclassmen. Gilchrist likely will be at point guard, and Jamar Smith, the lone senior, likely will start at center. But the rest of the lineup and the top reserves could take weeks to determine. Freshmen guard Mike Jones and forward Hassan Fofana could be early contributors, while sophomore guard Chris McCray and forwards Travis Garrison and Nik Caner-Medley will have increased roles.

“Anytime you have some unknowns on the team, you’ve very anxious to get on the court,” Williams said. “This year we can’t waste any days. Every day has to be a work day, a learning day. We have five really good players [for whom] everything we talk about is going to be new for awhile. You evaluate more each day. You see some things that are encouraging and discouraging.”

But Gilchrist doesn’t consider youth a drawback, considering many college teams regularly lose upperclassmen to the NBA.

“Look at Syracuse last year,” he said. “It was the same situation. People didn’t know what to expect, but that’s the tone around the NCAA this year. A lot of teams lost their main components, so it’s wide open.”

Just look at Georgetown’s basketball team, which will not have a dominant big man for the first time in more than two decades after All-American forward Mike Sweetney — the nation’s ninth-best scorer at 22.8 points a game last season — is gone.

With no talent to make up for Sweetney’s departure to the NBA, coach Craig Esherick is looking at a potentially unspectacular frontline of 6-foot-9 center Courtland Freeman (2.4 points, 2.3 rebounds), 213-pound power forward Brandon Bowman and 6-6 small forward Gerald Riley, who is Georgetown’s top returning scorer at 14.1.

Because swingman Riley also can play shooting guard, Georgetown’s backcourt situation is not as dire. The transfers of point guard Tony Bethel and turnover-plagued backup Drew Hall are addition by subtraction.

Highly regarded freshmen guards Matt Causey and Rayshawn Reed are considered better players than Bethel and Hall, who both transferred because they realized their minutes would diminish this season. Sophomore Ashanti Cook has a huge upside at point guard and can hit the outside shot.

RaMell Ross (6-5) and Darrel Owens (6-6) give the Hoyas big options at off guard, but Causey and Reed should help out Georgetown’s backcourt immediately.

Esherick will have to press and trap more to offset a likely lack of interior scoring. This is a transitional year for Georgetown, and a .500 record might be difficult.

At George Mason, meanwhile, the tone is decidedly more upbeat. The Patriots are predicted by virtually every preseason college basketball magazine to win their fourth Colonial Athletic Association title.

The positive outlook is based on George Mason’s talent and depth. Senior swingman Mark Davis (15.5 points) returns and is an explosive offensive presence. Senior point guard Raoul Heinen (11.0 points, 3.4 assists) and sophomore Lamar Butler, who sat out last season with a hip flexor after being All-CAA as a rookie, give the Patriots a nice 1-2 backcourt punch.

Sophomore forward Jai Lewis, a 6-7, 275-pound banger, is a handful up front. Add in coach Jim Larranaga’s patented scramble defense and the Patriots appear set to return back to the top spot in the league.

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