Carolina Blue blood had been running through Deana Tate's veins as far back as junior high school. She "had a dream" to play Atlantic Coast Conference basketball, like James Worthy, the Tar Heels star who used to "hang with my brothers" back home in Gastonia, N.C.
She was about 4 feet tall in junior high, Tate said the other day. Her sister once told her she didn't have a chance to make the high school team, scrawny as she was. Still, Tate was seeing Carolina Blue.
"When I was in junior high, I had a dream to play ACC ball, and it came through," Tate said, a short-billed hat with "Victory" printed on it atop her head. "I used to watch the games, you know, and I thought, 'I wish I could play with a big team like that.' "
Earlier this month, her dream came true, but not quite the way she had envisioned. Instead of wearing Carolina Blue, she was in Maryland Red. Tate, a 5-foot-8 freshman, was named most valuable player as she led the underdog Terrapins to three straight upset victories and the ACC tournament title. In the championship game, she scored 32 points against North Carolina.
Tate had academic problems in high school, and she said both North Carolina and Maryland offered special programs to improve her grades before she would be accepted into school. But Maryland was the first to offer her the program, she said, and she was afraid that if she waited for Chapel Hill to respond, Maryland might withdraw its offer.
So she went to College Park, where she learned life could be more complicated than in Gastonia. She spent her first year enrolled in University College, a division of the university system, as a prospective student-athlete.
At that time, Maryland Coach Chris Weller asked her to travel to, but not play in, three of the Terrapins' away games. That is a violation of NCAA rules, and Weller was reprimanded last fall. Weller was told she could not recruit off-campus until July 1, 1986, and Tate was declared ineligible for this season.
But Weller appealed the ruling, saying she did not realize Tate could not travel with the team, and the NCAA allowed Tate to play.
A quick point guard, Tate led the Terrapins in scoring (15 points) this season and was invaluable in the ACC tournament. In addition to her performance in the championship game, she had 27 points in a 92-68 victory over third-ranked Virginia in the semifinals.
"When we were going through the appeal and everything with Miss Weller," said Tate, "I was really afraid. When we did go to the first appeal and I lost, I had a lot of things to think about. Miss Weller was so upset, she didn't feel we were going to win.
"So we sat down and talked, and I said, 'Miss Weller, I have confidence that we're going to win the appeal, so you have to have confidence. We've got to go out and talk like we're telling the truth,' because they didn't think we were telling the truth, at first. So we sat down and she wrote a letter and I wrote a letter, and we came out on top because we had enough confidence we could do it. I told them I didn't come to Maryland because I knew I was going to travel with the team. I did come to Maryland because I had relatives and academic problems."
The season also had many ups and downs, as the Terrapins played well, then poorly. There were times Weller was so upset she would come out of the locker room after a game with tears in her eyes. Tate, who averaged more than 20 points the first quarter of the season, had a series of games when she scored under 10 points and played only half of each because of an injured ankle.
But as the season approached its end, Tate's scoring improved and she played close to 40 minutes a game. With the Terrapins (17-12) preparing for a second-round NCAA tournament game at Ohio State Sunday at 2 p.m., life away from North Carolina is easier for Tate.
"I wanted to be in the big city to see how it is," she said. "I really love it. It's bigger than my hometown, but you're always going to love your hometown, no matter where you're at."