- The Washington Times - Friday, November 4, 2005

The Maryland basketball team finally opens exhibition play this afternoon at Comcast Center, trading the routine of beating up each other after three weeks of practice to trying out plays against Canadian school St. Francis Xavier.

Yet as eager as the Terrapins are to face someone — anyone — else, no one is happier to see this day arrive than D.J. Strawberry.

The junior guard will play for the first time since tearing the ACL in his right knee during practice on Jan.17. He missed the final 18 games of last season and watched as the Terps went 9-9 without him, including 6-8 before a run to the NIT semifinals.

“I think it’s going to be a big day for me,” Strawberry said Thursday. “I just can’t wait to get back on the court and start playing against other teams. I missed a lot of time last year and I’m just looking forward to going out and play. I haven’t played in a while and I’m just ready.”

Strawberry didn’t resume most basketball activities until early September, but he is arguably in the best shape of his career. He couldn’t do much other than run and lift weights during the offseason and came into practice with an extra 10 pounds of muscle.

He’ll probably receive chances to display his fitness all over the court this season. Strawberry developed his ball-handling skills over the summer and frequently has played point guard since practice started last month, and could spend time on the wing when senior Sterling Ledbetter or junior college transfer Parrish Brown run the offense.

Strawberry never played point guard before arriving in College Park two years ago, but he became John Gilchrist’s backup as a freshman when Andre Collins transferred to Loyola. Before his injury last season, Strawberry split time between the point and wing, though he could spend more time at point guard after Gilchrist’s early departure following last season.

“It really doesn’t matter to me,” Strawberry said. “I just want to be on the court. I love playing [point guard]. It’s a great position and I love running the team, and I like being on the wing, too. It’s just wherever Coach [Gary Williams] decides to put me, that’s where I’m going to play.”

No matter where he is on the floor, Strawberry figures to be a critical component for the Terps.

He was Maryland’s best defensive player before getting hurt, and that talent could keep him on the floor for much more than the 21.4 minutes he averaged a year ago.

His versatility also increases the lineup permutations at Williams’ disposal, allowing the Terps to choose matchups based on the need to either take care of the ball or create several perimeter scoring threats.

“D.J. is D.J. He’s one of those guys who’s a basketball player,” senior guard Chris McCray said. “If Coach asked him to play center, D.J. would find a way to do it.”

Today, Strawberry and his teammates simply will try to gauge themselves against an unfamiliar opponent. Forward Nik Caner-Medley said at this stage of practice, everybody knows the plays and what to expect.

However, facing another team will allow the Terps to discover weaknesses to work at improving before the Nov.18 regular-season opener against Fairleigh Dickinson and a trip the next week to the Maui Invitational.

“We have to see where we are,” Williams said. “I’m not worried whether we’re playing zone, man-to-man, what their personnel is like. We’ve got to play. We have to play with a certain level of intensity. We won’t be perfect in terms of running plays, but the intensity level has to be getting pretty close to what we need when we play Fairleigh Dickinson.”

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