New-look Terrapins hope preseason fitness translates into victories

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 14, 2010; 10:37 PM

It will be three weeks before Maryland plays its first game of the season. But already, junior guard Sean Mosley feels confident in saying the new-look Terrapins have won September.

If that seems a dubious achievement, it's not - certainly not in the eyes of Coach Gary Williams, who handed out T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Win September" to his players a few months back.

In doing so, Williams challenged his team to devote that month to improving their fitness so that when practice started Friday - heralded by the Maryland Madness celebration at the Comcast Center - they'd be several strides ahead of the competition.

His Terps did more than Williams asked. Instead of heading home after the first session of summer school, as was custom, the Terps stayed in College Park all summer to work out as a group under the tutelage of Paul Ricci, director of basketball performance.

They ran sprints. They lifted weights. They pushed sleds outdoors in 100-degree heat.

As a result, Dino Gregory said he's returning for his senior season in the best shape of his life. The testimonials were much the same from his teammates Thursday at media day, where most of the questions revolved around how Williams plans to compensate for the loss of his three top scorers (as well as most vocal leader) from a year ago: Departing seniors Greivis Vasquez, Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes, who each surpassed the career 1,000-point mark and last season combined for 43.6 points per game.

The answer isn't unrelated to Williams's fitness challenge.

Conceding they "lost a lot of points" heading into the new season, Williams enumerated three ways of narrowing a potential gap in scoring:

First, players raise their scoring averages. Second, they play better defense and, as a result, shut down opposing offenses. And third, the Terps play such great defense it leads directly to better offense, whether a result of steals off the press or terrific rebounding that limits opponents to a single shot.

"There are a lot of ways to make that gap shrink that you might have, in terms of losing a lot of scoring from last year," Williams said. "But you can't play defense without being in shape. And you can't win games in the second half without being in shape."

Mosley, among the team's hardest workers, said he was committed to raising his fitness level - and that of every player around him - the moment the Terps' NCAA tournament ended with a second-round loss to Michigan State despite a frenzied comeback after trailing by 16 points in the second half.

"We came up a little shy against Michigan State," Mosley said. "I felt as if the offseason is the most important season for any team to get ready, to get the chemistry for the new guys coming in. We were short last year. And I felt if the guys stayed through [summer] to work hard and try to get better as a team, that probably could help us out in the long term."

Ricci, who trained NFL players before joining the staff at Maryland, was the driving force behind the summer workouts. He has a saying he likes to share with players: "Success leaves clues."

"When I go visit different places, I tell them what the best teams do," Ricci explained. "Michigan State guys stay [and work out] all summer; Texas, too. The players know there are a lot of pros coming from there, and they have a lot of success. So why can't we do it?"

By Ricci's accounting, this season's Terps put in twice as much conditioning work this summer as they usually do.

Whether such preseason fitness translates to a better performance on court remains to be seen. Among the unknowns: Maryland has six newcomers (five freshmen and a junior college transfer) - a staggering number of young bodies and new personalities to blend into a cohesive team.

But as he launches into his 22nd season at Maryland, Williams insists that's the sort of challenge that excites him most.

"It's fun to win big games," Williams said. "But there's a lot of enjoyment in putting a team together, because that's what I do. I'm a coach."

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