Maryland's basketball players had flown 12 hours to get here Wednesday, were bused straight to the University of Alaska-Anchorage's gymnasium for practice and now, finally, were headed for the bus that would take them to their hotel for some rest.
But as they made their way outside into the Alaskan heat wave -- temperature 32 degrees -- word suddenly came from inside: "Coach wants everybody back."
And so, wearily, the Terrapins went back inside for some final words from Coach Lefty Driesell. "This isn't like last year where we had everybody back," Adrian Branch said later. "Coach knows he's going to find out a lot about us this weekend. He's ready to go."
Driesell and his players will have to be ready Friday when they open their season against No. 19 Kansas at 8 p.m. EST in the opening round of the seventh annual Great Alaskan Shootout. The Jayhawks, 22-10 a season ago, have added 6-foot-10 freshman Danny Manning, a do-it-all big man who already is being compared to Earvin (Magic) Johnson and Larry Bird.
Maryland-Kansas will be the third of four games Friday in Sullivan Field House, as seven of the eight participants open their seasons. In the opener (at 11 a.m. Alaska time) second-ranked Illinois, which officially opened the new season Sunday with an impressive victory over fifth-ranked Oklahoma, should have little difficulty with Idaho State, which was 12-20 a season ago and is the only team in the field coming off a losing campaign.
In the second game, Tennessee (21-14) will play Alabama-Birmingham (23-11). After the Terrapins (24-8) play Kansas, Oregon (16-13) will play Alaska-Anchorage (15-13). Maryland is bracketed with Oregon and Alaska-Anchorage and will play one of those teams Saturday, depending on Friday's results. All eight teams play Saturday and Sunday.
"I told the players that if we can win this tournament we'd probably be ranked in the top four or five next week," Driesell said today as his team, ranked No. 22, prepared for Thanksgiving Day practice. "If we beat Kansas, Oregon and Illinois, a lot of people will notice."
Few people will notice if defending national champion Georgetown, the No. 1 team in the nation, wins its two games against non-Division I opposition this weekend. The Hoyas (34-3) open Friday against Hawaii-Hilo, a team they beat by 62 points last November.
Virginia also opens in Hawaii, playing Providence Friday and Davidson Saturday. The University of the District of Columbia is the only Washington-area school opening in the Lower 48, hosting its own tournament Friday with a first-round game against New York Tech.
While college basketball begins in earnest in all 50 states this weekend, a lot of the attention will be here. Though Louisville at Indiana Saturday is the showcase game, the depth of talent in this tournament is impressive. Four of the teams here were in the NCAA tournament last season; two others were in the NIT.
Annually, the field here is strong because the three games do not count against the 28-game NCAA limit, because coaches get a chance to test their teams early away from home and because the chance to venture into the unknown is intriguing.
"For us, this is super," said Kansas Coach Larry Brown. "We want to win, but beyond the winning and losing, we have a lot of young players we want to look at against tough teams now. Let them learn here rather than in league games. Plus, I think just being here is a great experience for all of us."
Brown has three starters back from last season and he has an excellent seven-man freshman class. But the reason his team is receiving so much early attention is Manning.
"I just want to fit in, be a role player, make the team stronger where it wasn't strong last year," Manning said today. "The upperclassmen are the nucleus of this team."
Those are the right things for a freshman to say, but they just aren't true. The leading returning scorer for Kansas is 6-6 junior Calvin Thompson, who averaged 11.3 points per game last season. Greg Dreiling, the 7-foot junior center, averaged 9.7 and lefty jump shooter Ron Kellogg 6.1. In an exhibition game against the Chinese National team, Manning had 19 points and 10 rebounds. He will do a lot right away.
"I'm hoping he'll be a little nervous playing his first college game," Driesell said today as he ate a turkey sandwich before practice. "From what I've seen, he can do about anything: run the court, pass, shoot, rebound. He's a great player."
As Branch points out, the Terrapins are very different from the team that won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament last winter. Not only are Ben Coleman and Herman Veal gone, the players who are back are being asked to do different things.
Len Bias, who became a star at small forward last season by averaging 15.2 points a game, will have to play big forward, go inside more and rebound more. Branch (13.0 ppg) will have to shoot more with Coleman gone, and pick up some defensive slack. Sophomore Terry Long, who played sparingly, and freshman Derrick Lewis will face bigger players in the middle all season. Example: Friday, the 6-8 Long and 6-7 Lewis will be looking at 7-0 Dreiling and almost 6-11 Manning.