College basketball begins in earnest around the nation tonight with several local teams facing injury problems before the first shot has been taken.
Maryland and Georgetown, facing easy opening games, and George Washington, with a tough opener, all have star players who are either questionable or will not play.
Maryland, 19-11 a year ago, and opening tonight at 8 p.m. in Cole Field House against Maryland Eastern Shore, will be without 6-foot-8 sophomore Buck Williams.
Williams, the rookie of the year in the ACC last season, fractured the ring finger on his right hand in practice Wednesday and will not play tonight. r His spot at center will be taken by 6-10 sophomore Taylor Baldwin.
Team physician Dr. Stanford Lavine yesterday placed Williams' hand in a cast for 10 days. Williams probably will be out at least three weeks, missing seven games.
Williams and Coach Lefty Driesell both were looking at the bright side of the situation at a press conference yesterday. $"I feel I'm blessed that it wasn't my ankle or my knee," Williams said.
"It'll allow the people behind Buck to gain experience and take more responsibility," Driesell said.
Baldwin, the man behind Williams, said. "It's my big break. I probably won't get another. I'm a little nervous, but I'll be all right once the game starts."
Georgetown last year and hosting Bowie State in McDonough Gym Saturday night, will be without star forward Craig Shelton. He was hospitalized as a precautionary measure after excessive bleeding following removal of a cyst from the floor of his mouth Tuesday.
He is scheduled to be released today and is expected to be available for Wednesday's game against Maryland.
Georgetown coach John Thompson did not name a replacement for Shelton, but 6-7 sophomore Jeff Bullis is the most likely candidate for the Bowie State game.
At George Washington, 13-14 in '79, 6-10 senior Mike Zagardo, considered the key man for the Colonials this season, will test his injured ankle against Duquesne Saturday night.
"If it weren't a conference game I would probably try and rest it," Zagardo said. "But it's such an important game (in the Eastern Eight) that I'm going to try and play on it as long as I can. Right now it feels pretty good."
Zagardo sprained the ankle badly in a pickup game two months ago and it has been slow to respond to treatment. Voted all-conference as a junior, Zagardo says now that if the ankle bothers him enough during the first three games of the season he will consider sitting out the season and returning next year.
Other local teams will begin play this weekend with key players expected to start but still hobbling somewhat from preseason injuries. George Mason and Howard will square off at Howard Saturday night, each with last season's leading scorer coming off a preseason injury -- 6-9 Andre Gaddy for the Patriots, 17-9 a year ago in their first Division I season, and 6-7 Larry Spriggs for the Bison, 16-12 last season.
Catholic, trying to rebound from a 6-20 season and the loss of its top recruit, David Blue, to Georgetown, has a rough start, playing at Harvard tonight and then moving on for a game at Holy Cross Sunday.
American, 14-13 last season, has managed to keep its star, Boo Bowers, healthy throughout the preseason. The Eagles open Saturday night at Towson State College. The University of the District of Columbia, 12-14 last winter, faces a tough opener tonight, traveling to Hampton Institute for its debut under new coach Wil Jones.
In Charlottesville, Coach Terry Holland will unviel what should be his best team in six years at Virginia, sending Ralph Sampson, Jeff Lamp, Lee Raker and company out for an easy warmup against Johns Hopkins tonight. Saturday, things get a little more serious, when Georgia Tech makes its ACC debut in University Hall. Tech, 17-9 a year ago, lost all its best players just in time to join the ACC. The Cavaliers, without freshman star-to-be Sampson, were 19-11 last year.
Further south, North Carolina's ACC representatives begin knocking each other off tonight with their annual Big Four Tournament, hated by the coaches, loved by the fans and finally voted out this week by the athletic directors.
The tournament, now 10 years old, has been a bonanza financially for Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest since its inception, playing to sellout crowds in Greensboro every year. But the coaches, most notably UNC's Dean Smith, didn't like the idea of facing tough competition that would have to be faced later anyway, so early.
Thus, under pressure from the coaches, the athletic directors voted Wednesday to eliminate the tournament after next season. Tonight, however, third-ranked Duke will play Wake Forest and sixth-ranked Carolina will take on N.C. State, the winners and losers meeting Saturday. c
The only significant injury going in is to Wake guard Frank Johnson, who has missed most of the preseason with a foot problem. He is questionable for the weekend.
Maryland's Lefty Driesell, starting his 11th Year as Terrapin coach, will be trying for his 200th coaching win at Maryland tonight . . . In nine years of the Big Four Tournament, North Carolina State and Wake Forest have won it three times; North Carolina twice and Duke once -- last year . . . The Blue Devils are the only Division I team in the nation with a win going into tonight's play, an 82-76 victory over Kentucky in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic two weeks ago . . . Duke is ranked three notches above UNC in the national preseason poll, but the Tar Heels are favored by ACC writers to win the conference. Those same writers picked Maryland fourth, behind Duke and Virginia.