- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 15, 2005

An earlier-than-usual start didn’t take the madness out of Maryland’s celebration of the beginning of basketball season at Comcast Center.

The event, technically no longer “Midnight Madness” since the NCAA passed a rule permitting teams to practice as early as 7 p.m., is still popular with fans hoping to catch an after-dark glimpse of a team that went 19-13 and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1993.

That disappointment hardly mattered last night to fans, who cheered the introduction of the veteran team. The only Terp who did not play was senior guard Chris McCray, who sat out with a sprained ankle.

The Terrapins took the floor at about 10 p.m., the school’s attempt to preserve the event’s tradition — it was first held at Maryland in 1970 — and student-friendly atmosphere while still finishing earlier than in past years.

“It doesn’t make too much of a difference,” senior forward Nik Caner-Medley said last night. “It’s a good time regardless for the fans and for us. That’s what Midnight Madness is all about, going out and having fun and bringing everybody together.”

The evening, dubbed Maryland Madness, was a sellout before last night even with — and perhaps with the aid of — the time change. The event ended before 10:30 p.m., a much more manageable time for families with young children.

It also will benefit the Terps, who will practice this morning with more rest than in past years.

“The one thing about going early is you’ll get more little kids,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “I’ve seen more little kids out here this year than were here last year. It’s nice if you can get kids interested in basketball this way because a lot of those people don’t have tickets to go to a game during the regular season.”

The night didn’t feature some of the creative antics that defined Midnight Madness in the past at Maryland. In recent years, Williams has entered Comcast on a motorcycle and in a stock car and has been the subject of a look-a-like contest.

Instead, there was more standard fare, including an alumni game and men’s and women’s scrimmages.

“I’m very calm tonight,” Williams said. “Our theme tonight is the team. The last two years have been great, but it’s been a little bit individual. We’re trying to be more of a team like the New England Patriots.”

The Maryland women also took their turn scrimmaging moments before the men were introduced. Coach Brenda Frese’s team is coming off a 22-10 season and its second straight trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Four starters return for the Terps, including guard Shay Doron and center Crystal Langhorne. Maryland is ranked in the top 15 in several preseason publications.

“It never gets old,” Frese said. “This is really about our team and the fans, and it’s always a great event. For so many new faces to be able come out and the returning players, it’s always fun to tip off the season.”

While the ambience was appreciated, the Maryland men are anxious to move on from last season. Ten of the Terps’ 12 players are juniors and seniors, and the veteran group was eager to both savor last night and get started at practice today.

“I’m just going to sit back and enjoy it,” Caner-Medley said. “It’s the last time I’m going to step on this court where it’s just to have a good time. After that in practice, it’s going to be hard work.”

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