For as long as he can remember, Murray Arnold had been a Maryland basketball fan. Growing up in University Park, he went to see the Terps play football and basketball often. When he wanted to play basketball, he and his friends would break into campus gymnasiums.
"I was a turtle fan all the way," he said yesterday. "They could do no wrong in my eyes."
All that will stop -- at least temporarily -- Thursday in Dayton. At 9:38 that evening Coach Murray Arnold and the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Moccasins will meet Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
"Playing them is going to bring back a lot of nostalgic feelings for me," Arnold said. "They've been part of my life as long as I can remember."
Arnold, 42, is in his second year as coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga. He arrived there after one year as an assistant coach at Mississippi State. Prior to that he was head coach at Birmingham Southern, an NAIA school.
But his coaching roots lie deeper still. As an undergraduate at American, Arnold was an asssistant to Morgan Wootten at De Matha High School. "A lot of the defenses he helped me put in are the ones I still use today," Wootten said.
Last year Arnold took over a program struggling to make a name for itself in Division I. The Moccasins were Division II national champions in 1977. They moved to Division I and joined the Southern Conference in 1978.
A year ago the Moccasins had a 13-14 record. They were at 14-8 this season before winning their last seven games and the Southern Conference tournament to make the NCAA Division I playoffs for the first time.
"Our kids are excited because they realize what kind of opportunity this is, playing a team like Maryland." Arnold said. "I'm looking forward to it, but with some trepidation."
Understandably. The Moccasins played two name schools all season, Georgia and Missouri. They lost both games, by nine to Georgia and two to Missouri. The rest of the schedule included the Southern Conference schools -- Appalachian State, VMI, Citadel, Furman, Davidson, East Tennessee Western Carolina, Marshall -- and teams like Tennessee State and Tennessee Temple.
"We're not very big or anything but we're been consistent most of the year," Arnold said. "we didn't lost to anybody by more than nine points and I think playing Georgia and Missouri helped us a lot even though we lost both games. We know going into this game that if we play our game we can play with Maryland.
"There are four things we have to do: control their transition game; keep them off the offensive boards; take good shots ourselves and find a way to control their talent in our half-court defense."
Easier said than done. Arnold's best player is 6-foot-4 Eric Smith, who likes to play inside and averages 17.2 points per game. The Moccasins are small with Smith, 6-5 James Jones and 6-8 Stan Lawrence starting up front. sSix of their 11 players are in their first season at the school. That helps explain the late rush.
Although Tennessee-Chattanooga has been an up-tempo team most of the season, it can be expected to try to keep the pace slow Thursday. The Terps are bigger and faster than the Moccasins. If the last several years are an indicator, the Moccasins won't be too tough. The Southern Conference has not done well in NCAA play lately.
"We've played our best with our backs to the wall this season though," Arnold said. "We know what's at stake and we know we have a chance to make a name for ourselves with an upset. I'm excited about it."
And, after Thursday, will Arnold go back to being a Maryland fan?