NEW YORK — Maryland’s team bus pulled into New York City late Sunday night, sometime around 8 p.m. after battling rubber-neckers and rain up Interstate 95. The team checked into the gaudy Marriott Marquis on Broadway, took in a family-style Italian dinner at Tony’s DiNapoli and wandered the streets of Times Square, bathing in the iridescent glow of a thousand billboards.
Monday brought media obligations in the early afternoon and a team practice at nearby Baruch College, where Coach Mark Turgeon’s Texas A&M team worked out in 2007 before winning the preseason NIT. Before tipping off against Iowa on Tuesday at 9 p.m. — most likely to be somewhere around 9:30 given that it follows BYU-Baylor at 7– the Terps have shootaround at Madison Square Garden.
That leaves a lot of time for sitting around, lying in king-sized beds and playing on their phones — or, for certain players, scheming up April Fools Day pranks.
“I’m not that creative,” point guard Pe’Shon Howard said. “We’ve got a few jokes going on. I have to go to YouTube or Google some pranks. I definitely have to get these guys.”
So far, Howard and some teammates say they’ve received cryptic text messages from blocked numbers, but have bigger plans in the works. Turgeon knows his three children, who made the trip on spring break, are big pranksters. He also knows them too well to be pranked.
“A lot of our families are on spring break,” Turgeon said. “I know our players are excited because they’re out of school. My familiy’s excited because they get to come on a trip to New York. It’s a nice treat. Guys have worked hard, they’ve played well lately. Yeah, it’s a fun time. It’s icing on the cake.”
On team bus rides and flights, the Terps have developed a particular affinity for snapping pictures of sleeping players. But those capers are old news. It’s the Big Apple, so Howard wants a Big Prank.
“This is the year I’ll really do some research,” he said. “I’m going to get somebody. I don’t know who it is, but I’m going to do some research. I love these guys, so it’s nothing like tough love. I don’t really know any pranks. I’m really about to look it up. Don’t worry. I’m going to get somebody.”
Alex Len, who coyly and conveniently returned to his seat on the team bus once Howard woke up from a nap, has enough issues blending into the city without fear of impending shenanigans. Quiet by nature, Len said crossing the street took him 10 minutes last night. Tourists kept requesting pictures with the 7-foot-1 sophomore.
“This city never sleeps,” Len said. “People are asking a lot of questions. ‘How tall are you? What team do you play for?’ Same questions over and over. Ten people took pictures with me.
“I like doing this stuff, but in New York it’s too much. DC is cool. Here, it’s too many people. Everyone wants to ask questions and take a picture.”
Given his NBA draft prospects, Len might want to get used to posing for impromptu pictures in crosswalks. Dez Wells, who kept peeking over during Howard’s interview hoping to gather some prank intelligence, got all his touristy trips out of the way last season, when Xavier played at Fordham. But Tuesday night, like many of his teammates, will mark Wells’s first trip to Madison Square Garden.
“It’s okay to really enjoy the sights and see what’s going on, but you have to keep your mind set on what you’re here for,” Wells said. “So many great players that play here [at Madison Square Garden] and have done really, really great things at this big of a stage, so it would be really big for us to come out with a championship. That’s what I’m focused on.”
And maybe some saran wrap on toilet seats too.