- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 17, 2009

Eric Hayes attended Midnight, er, Maryland Madness, even in the Terrapins’ Cole Field House years.

Every year - even during a trimmed-down evening like Friday’s at Comcast Center - the message was much the same: The basketball season was right around the corner.

So it was again as Hayes and his teammates were introduced during a few-frills evening that preceded Maryland’s first full practice Saturday morning.

“It’s sad it’s my last one,” Hayes said. “Every year it’s exciting building up to this point to the start of the season.”

Certainly a little more excitement exists this season with the Terps considered a possible top-25 team when the national polls come out in the coming weeks. Maryland, which plays its first game Nov. 3, went 21-14 a year ago and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The Terps’ chances of surpassing those accomplishments rest heavily upon the return of guard Greivis Vasquez, who received a raucous cheer when he was introduced. Vasquez considered entering the NBA Draft but withdrew just before the deadline to come back for his senior season.

The introductions, typically done with players entering through the stands, were much more low-key. With Vasquez leading the way, the Terps entered as a team. It was hardly surprising because the school dispensed with many of the typical technological bells and whistles of past years.

That also meant a far less dramatic entrance for coach Gary Williams, who has arrived at the event in the past on a motorcycle, in a stock car and from out of the roof of an armored truck.

Instead, Williams - who underwent surgery last week to remove a ruptured disk from his neck - made his standard game-day stroll from the locker room punctuated with a trademark right fist pump to the student section before taking the microphone.

“We want high expectations,” Williams said while exhorting fans for support. “Just bring that. We’ll take those expectations, and we’ll go play. … We want to win every game we play here, and I think we can this year.”

One surefire way to elicit cheers is with dunks, as the Terps demonstrated Friday night. Sean Mosley, Landon Milbourne, Adrian Bowie and walk-on Ersin Levent took turns depositing slams throughout a 10-minute scrimmage that serves as the team’s first work of the season.

“I know the fans enjoy everything we do out there,” Hayes said. “It’s entertainment, and Coach said it’s about fun. Tomorrow, we have the first practice, so we have to turn that switch off and get into season mode.”

The business of practice, though, usually waits a night as Maryland resumes a tradition it pioneered in the 1970s. Ultimately, nothing from Friday night will have a lasting impact on the rest of the season.

Still, Vasquez left fans with a promise on the eve of the season.

“We’re not going to guarantee we’re going to win the ACC or the NCAA,” Vasquez said. “But we will guarantee nobody is going to work harder than us.”

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