Maryland's three suspended basketball players were reinstated yesterday evening after apologizing to Coach Lefty Driesell and their teammates for breaking curfew.
All-America forward Len Bias, starting guard Jeff Baxter and freshman guard John Johnson arrived at Cole Field House at 6:20 p.m. and met individually with Driesell for about 15 minutes apiece before joining the 7 p.m. practice.
All three will play -- and Bias and Baxter likely will start -- against Maryland-Eastern Shore tonight at Cole Field House (8 o'clock), ending their three-day, one-game suspension. They had been suspended "indefinitely" by Driesell Friday morning for breaking curfew after a 67-66 victory at North Carolina State.
The players said yesterday that they had left the team hotel to watch a videotaped replay of the game at a friend's room on the N.C. State campus. When they arrived back at the hotel in Raleigh, N.C., Driesell was waiting for them, and he booked them on the first plane home.
Without three of their top six players, including the 10th-leading scorer in the country in Bias, the Terrapins lost, 70-60, at Clemson Saturday. The loss deprived Maryland (13-11 overall, 3-7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) of what would have been its third straight ACC victory and endangered its outside chance at getting an NCAA tournament bid.
"All I've got to say is I'm sorry for what I did," said Bias, who issued his curt statement and then joined practice. "I apologize to my fans, my friends and everyone else. It'll never happen again."
The three players arrived together looking tense. They were greeted warmly by their teammates in the Maryland training room.
"It can get mighty lonely out there," guard Keith Gatlin said, gesturing at the court.
Johnson immediately donned his jersey as he waited to see Driesell. Baxter was the first to emerge.
"I wasn't scared," Baxter said. "I was just in the position of knowing I was wrong . . . . All I can say to my teammates is we're sorry. We should have been much more responsible, especially Len and I. We knew we were wrong, so you can't be angry at Coach. He was doing what any coach would have done, disciplining his team."
Driesell requested an explanation from each of the players, but particularly Bias and Baxter, who as seniors had helped make up the curfew rules. Maryland's midnight curfew on the night of a game had been extended to 1 a.m. after the victory over N.C. State, when the team did not return to the hotel until 12:30 a.m.
"I really didn't have to tell them much," Driesell said. "I just wanted to find out what happened. My concern was that we were ready to play Clemson. You can't go out two nights before a game and stay out that late and be ready to play. I don't want that to be a precedent here.
"The other thing is that I don't want my players roaming around at night when I don't know where they are. If they had come and asked to go to a friend's house to watch the videotape, maybe I would have said yes. Then again, maybe I would have said no."
Missing two of their top three guards, the Terrapins turned the ball over 21 times against Clemson. Both Johnson and Baxter said that had they played against Clemson, Maryland probably would have won.
"I watched and cheered, just like a cheerleader," Baxter said. "When we were up at the half (24-23), I was elated. Then we turned the ball over, and that was a tough thing to watch."
With five games remaining, Maryland probably needs to win four to have a good chance at an NCAA invitation.
After Maryland-Eastern Shore, the Terrapins head into the toughest and most crucial stretch of their schedule, meeting No. 1 North Carolina in Chapel Hill Thursday (9 p.m.) before returning home to play No. 5 Georgia Tech Saturday (4 p.m.).
Asked if he would feel partly responsible should the Terrapins not recover from the loss to Clemson, Baxter said, "That's a tough question. All we can do is try to make up for what we've done."
Baxter said they broke curfew "out of excitement about the game" against N.C. State. According to Johnson, it was Bias who realized how late they were and suggested they hurry back to the hotel.
Driesell, who had been working late on his weekly television show, had discovered the players were absent when he heard an unanswered phone ringing in Bias' room. He was waiting up for them when they returned to the team hotel in the early hours of Friday morning.
"I thought, 'We're caught,' " Johnson said.
"We knew we were late, let's put it that way," Baxter said. "Truthfully, we knew the situation was precarious and we were just hoping to talk to Coach. He was very upset. I don't remember what time we got in, I just remember what time we got to bed -- about 4 o'clock."