- The Washington Times - Friday, October 14, 2005

A new college basketball season has nearly arrived, one that couldn’t have come soon enough for the Maryland men’s program.

Some of the eagerness was created by last season’s disappointing 19-13 record. Even more resulted from the end of the Terrapins’ 11-year NCAA tournament streak.

And still some more probably developed from a suddenly veteran group’s realization it doesn’t have many more chances to leave its own imprint on a program less than four years removed from a national title.

“I think this is the most everybody has been looking forward to the season since I’ve been here,” junior guard D.J. Strawberry said yesterday at the team’s media day at Comcast Center. “We’re just out to prove people wrong. Last year, it wasn’t that good. But this year is a new year and a new start and we’re ready.”

Indeed, last season was arguably the most disappointing of coach Gary Williams’ first 16 in College Park. There were some expectations the team’s young nucleus would lead it to the second weekend of the NCAAs or further, but the inconsistent Terps instead settled for a spot in the NIT semifinals.

That memory remains with the Terps, who open practice today with a scrimmage at 10 p.m. to cap the sold-out Maryland Madness festivities at Comcast Center. Yet Williams is more concerned about this year’s team, opting not to worry much about a season fans of the program would no doubt rather forget.

“If you’re a great player or a great team, you don’t need outside things,” Williams said. “Our motivation this year is to be a great basketball team. It’s not because we were in the NIT last year. … Last year’s over. It was what it was.”

The Terps return the bulk of a squad that swept two games from Duke yet lost three games to Clemson. Point guard John Gilchrist turned pro a year early, went unselected in the NBA Draft and recently signed a contract to play in Israel, but everyone else who averaged at least 10 minutes is back.

About the only area with new faces is Williams’ staff, which added long-time Charlotte assistant Rob Moxley and former Washington Bullets star and Washington Mystics coach Michael Adams. They replaced Dave Dickerson (Tulane) and Mike Lonergan (Vermont), who accepted head coaching jobs after last season.

Four starters are back, a group that does not include sophomore forward James Gist, who was impressive as a reserve a year ago; junior center Will Bowers, who enters the preseason in fine shape after a busy summer that included time at the Pete Newell Big Man Camp; and Strawberry, a defensive ace who has recovered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee suffered in January.

That depth could make it difficult for Williams to develop a consistent starting five early in the season. Forward Nik Caner-Medley (16.0 points a game) and guard Chris McCray (14.1) were the Terps’ top scorers a year ago, but beyond those two it is difficult to pinpoint a likely lineup for the Terps’ Nov. 18 opener against Fairleigh Dickinson.

“It’s hard to say these five guys will definitely start,” Williams said. “I know coaches say that a lot, but I think if you look at our team, you have to agree with that. I guess what I’m looking is for a couple people to step up this year. Guys have had good games in the past, but we need people that are going to carry us on the year.”

Whoever emerges to lead the veteran club — the Terps have a combined 10 juniors and seniors — will no doubt invoke last season’s miseries to ensure Maryland returns to the NCAAs after a one-year hiatus.

“It [stinks] to be part of that group of 12 guys that will always be remembered as the ones that messed up the streak,” Bowers said. “We just have to take it as motivation this year and try to get a new streak started.”

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