A couple of tots named John Johnson and Tony Massenburg may start for Maryland against undefeated Alabama tonight at Cole Sand Box, and a couple of other freshmen are likely to see playing time as well, if they don't fall off the seesaw first.
That's the way they're playing ba-ba-ball at Maryland these days, and if the youth movement continues at Cole Field House, pretty soon Coach Charles G. Driesell is going to be talking in monosyllables.
Massenburg, a 6-foot-9, 18-year-old from Sussex, Va., is almost certain to make his second straight start at center for the Terrapins, and Johnson may make his first start at guard after two double-figure performances off the bench.
December is a good month for testing freshmen, and Driesell will find out just how helpful these two will be when Maryland plays the Crimson Tide at 8 p.m. Alabama is 6-0 and has a sizable front court and a settled back court, the two things the Terrapins lack most.
"Time will tell," Driesell said. "I think we'll find out pretty quick."
Johnson, who is 6-4 and from Knoxville, Tenn., is the most promising of the freshmen and has played more than the others, 139 minutes, and has averaged 6.2 points a game. He had 10 points against Towson State last week and 15 against William and Mary on Dec. 5. He is third in assists with 16, and has four steals.
Johnson, who wants to go into business law to be an agent -- "the owners are tough, but there's a lot of money in it" -- gives the Terrapins some unexpected depth at shooting guard. Jeff Baxter is the only returnee there, and Driesell has experimented to the point of moving 6-6 Tom (Speedy) Jones from forward. Even if Johnson starts tonight, though, it is not likely to be a permanent move unless he improves dramatically. Baxter and Jones have much-needed experience and are averaging 8.4 and 8.0, respectively.
"I'm just trying to experiment around and find the best combination, see who's best off the bench," Driesell said.
Massenburg started against Towson State last week, scoring 12 points. He was the third player to open a game for Maryland in the middle this season, and he earned it with aggressiveness not typical of a freshman. Although he is averaging only 3.2 points, he might be the most physical player among Maryland's options in the middle.
"I don't want to be timid," he said. "If someone hits me with an elbow, they're one up on me and I have to get them back. If I don't, they'll think they came do it to me for the rest of the game. I've got to try to hold my ground."
"He comes from a small school and a small town," Driesell said. "He hasn't played tough competition. He's a good athlete, but he's never played against big, strong people. He was a little lost at first, but now he's getting better. We'll see how he does against tougher competition."
Four of Alabama's starters are averaging double figures and the team is averaging 92.2 points. The front court consists of 6-9 sophomore Derrick McKey in the middle, and 6-7 Buck Johnson and 6-3 Jim Farmer at the forwards. Johnson is averaging 22.5 points and 7.7 rebounds, Farmer 13.5 points, and McKey 11.8 points and 5.9 rebounds. In the back court, Terry Coner is averaging 10.4 and Mark Gottfried seven.
Alabama's bench is startlingly deep. Four other players are averaging more than six points a game; 6-7 forward Michael Ansley averages 9.5 points.
"I don't like playing undefeated teams," Driesell said. "I like the ones that have been beaten. Any time a team is undefeated they tend to think they aren't going to lose. We have to convince them they can get beat."