Youthful Terrapins rebuild in tough conference

Dec. 4, 2003, midnight | By Vivek Chellappa | 17 years, 1 month ago

After two excellent seasons, the University of Maryland basketball program has some rebuilding to do. Despite being one of the most athletically talented teams coach Gary Williams has ever had, the team is vastly inexperienced. With all of the key players from the 2002 championship departed, Williams will have to rely on a nucleus of raw starters to support the team while the freshman develop. None of the starters have played more than one year of college basketball, and four of the players are sophomores.

Jamar Smith stands as the lone senior on the team, and is expected to carry the Terps in performance and leadership. Although he is only in his second year with the Terrapins and didn't start last year, Smith spent his first two years of college at Allegany Community College, which has produced Maryland stars Steve Francis and Ryan Randle. Williams made no mistake in identifying the role Smith is to play. "Now he has to step up to be a leader as a senior, and continue to improve his game," he said at Maryland's Media Day on October 8.

Also expected to play a key role this season is sophomore swingman Nik Caner-Medley, the only starter from last year's squad. Sophomore John Gilchrist will play point for the team, replacing the steady Steve Blake, now with the Wizards. Although Gilchrist is not as solid defensively, he is better offensively than Blake, specializing at attacking the basket. Sophomores Travis Garrison and Chris McCray, both reservists last year, will step into starting roles, filling out the starting lineup.

Maryland fans are eagerly awaiting for the emergence of some of the younger players into starting roles. The five freshmen that Maryland recruited are considered the best class Maryland has ever assembled. Mike Jones will soon become the leader of this team. Most rankings had the 6' 5'' guard ranked second, behind Lebron James, among all high school guards. Gary Williams has high expectations for his soon-to-be star. "Mike, strength-wise, is ready to play college basketball," Coach Williams said during the Media Day. "He is very quick, very powerful off the floor and he is an outstanding 3-point shooter." The other freshmen were no small task to recruit. The 7 ' 1'' Will Bowers, 6'9'' Ekene Ibekwe, and the 6'10'' Hassan Fofana were all heavily recruited. Rounding out the excellent class is D.J. Strawberry Jr., son of ex-baseball player Darryl Strawberry. Strawberry Jr. is an excellent defender, and will soon log significant time.

The opportunity for Williams to teach his younger players is a role he excels at. Williams made his career by developing good players like Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter, into stars. He should be able to do even greater things with this new crop of talent, and return Maryland to the Final Four for several years to come.

Conference Preview
The rest of the league has caught up to Maryland and Duke. North Carolina and Wake Forest are expected to have excellent seasons after spending the last few years in the middle of the conference. North Carolina has some of the best young talent in the conference, including Raymond Felton, the ACC preseason player of the year. Wake Forest is the deepest team in the conference, with eight or nine players excepted to have important roles. Also expected to challenge for a NCAA bid is NC State, with star Julius Hodge leading a team that only lost one starter from last year.

ACC Prediction
1) Duke
2) University of North Carolina
3) University of Maryland
4) North Carolina State
5) Wake Forest

Maryland will advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.

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Vivek Chellappa. As Vivek beings his final year in Blair, several new hobbies draw his attention: his passion for standup comedy and making lists with only one real piece of information. Vivek has recently developed a strong liking for the works of Mitch Hedberg, Dave Chapelle and … More »

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