Underdog Status Will No Longer Apply to Maryland Men's Basketball Team

Maryland men's basketball head coach Gary Williams talks about the excitement he feels at the start of the season and how his veteran-led team is preparing for its first game.
By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 16, 2009

Any uncertainty surrounding this season's Maryland men's basketball team seemingly was erased in June, when senior guard Greivis Vasquez withdrew his name from the NBA draft. Unlike last season, when questions about front-court depth and offensive potency led to criticism of the team that the Terrapins used as motivation, this season's squad likely will be a member of the top 25, a favorite in most of its games and one of the 65 teams invited to the NCAA tournament.

Or at least that's the view from outside the Terrapins' locker room.

"No, I think we're underdogs," Vasquez said Thursday at Maryland's media day at Comcast Center. "I'd rather feel like I'm an underdog. I don't want people to expect anything out of us. I want people to understand that we've got to earn every win. A lot of people are going to be, 'Oh, they're top 20 so they got to win games.' No. We have to work hard. We can't be comfortable because we're going to be top 25."

Such an underdog mentality may be tough to maintain when looking at the talent returning to the Terrapins, who went 21-14 last season and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament before falling to Memphis. There's Vasquez, who again was named to the all-ACC second team after leading Maryland in scoring (17.5 points per game), rebounds (5.4 per game) and assists (five per game) last season. There are experienced veterans such as Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne, who are proven scoring options. And there are two freshman forwards -- 6-foot-10 Jordan Williams and 6-8 James Padgett -- who will bolster the Terrapins' front-court depth.

Sophomore guard Sean Mosley is another reason to be bullish about Maryland's prospects. Coaches expect him to build upon a freshman season in which he proved to be the team's most physical perimeter defender. Mosley, who started 16 games last season, said the team will replace its defiant mind-set with a developed sense of ambition.

"Last season a lot of people doubted us, and that's one thing that we had on our back the whole time; that's what made us play harder each and every time we stepped out on the court," Mosley said. "But this year we're just out here to have fun and win games."

Williams and Padgett are expected to relieve some of the pressure on Milbourne, who manned the post and was second on the team in rebounds (5.2 per game) last season despite standi ng only 6-7. Vasquez's long-range shooting development is expected to allow more scoring opportunities for his teammates. The entire package -- seven of Maryland's top eight scorers from last season return -- is expected to make Coach Gary Williams's job a tad bit easier.

"I am confident that we can do more things, that we can do them earlier in practice, which is really important," Gary Williams said. "Just the size thing makes a difference in your team where you feel going into practice that you have more ways to score inside. . . . You feel like you can get more guys in there to play."

One of those guys, junior guard Cliff Tucker, said Maryland's biggest question mark entering the season is how the players will respond to the unexpected success they experienced last March.

"We've just got to want to prove to the whole world that we're one of the best teams in the country," Tucker said. "I think if we do that and we come in here with kind of a chip on our shoulder, then we'll do good this year."

Several Terrapins acknowledged the tone of media day would have been much different were it not for Vasquez's decision to return for his senior year.

"If he would have decided to leave, no one would have known how this season would go, no one would know how we would have reacted to it," Milbourne said. "But now that he's here and he's coming back we know exactly where we're at as a team."

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