Derrick Lewis, the only first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference player returning this season, has noticed several differences between the Maryland basketball team of this season and that of a year ago.

"This year, people talk to us," Lewis said of campus discussion. "Last year, they just talked about us."

They talked about the Len Bias scandal, the 0-14 Atlantic Coast Conference record and the 9-17 overall mark. Not much of the talk was upbeat.

There appears to be a much more talented collection of players under the direction of Coach Bob Wade. Last season, five players started every game and played most of the minutes.

Point guard Teyon McCoy, now a 6-foot-1 sophomore, had the lowest average minutes of the five but that was just over 29. This year, the 6-7 Lewis is the only sure starter, and he will move from center to forward.

Though all five starters are back, five other players from a year ago are not. Center/forward Phil Nevin is on scholarship but not playing. Guard Ivan Powell, who had the most minutes off the bench, transferred to Connecticut. Center Andre Reyes transferred to California. Walk-on Pat Holland is not on the team and Tom Worstell returned to the lacrosse team.

The newcomers or relative newcomers are partially responsible for the increased optimism around College Park. It's a safe bet Maryland will run and press more than a year ago, when those tactics would have further sapped the strength of an already thin team.

Most every school would have liked to have had 6-10, 210-pound freshman center Brian Williams from Santa Monica, Calif. Williams will play with his back to the basket, and if he doesn't start at center, 6-9, 200-pound freshman Cedric Lewis probably will, though Wade has given no public indication of who will be on the court for the opening tip.

The other newcomer is 6-1 point guard Rudy Archer, who was a junior college all-America at Allegany Community College. Archer, who is left-handed, is fast and quick. He can hit the three-point shot but his passing is more spectacular than his shooting. If he doesn't start on the point, McCoy probably will.

Junior 6-6 forward Dave Dickerson and 6-4 junior guard John Johnson also return from last year's starting five. Johnson or 6-4 sophomore guard Steve Hood, who started all 26 games and was the second-leading scorer with a 14.2 points per game average last season, probably will start at off-guard.

Dickerson is more of small forward than a power forward, and this year he will probably play more of the former. But it's almost certain he won't play as much or even start, simply because the talent is more abundant.

"We all know Derrick is going to start, but the rest of us don't know," said Dickerson, who averaged 8.3 points and 5.6 rebounds. "I do not see myself playing 40 minutes but hopefully they will be more productive minutes."

Among the as-yet-unanswered questions is when or if Tony Massenburg, Keith Gatlin and Rodney Walker will be available to play. Massenburg, who has practiced and would be a help as a power forward, is apparently moving in the right direction academically, though he may not have progressed enough to be allowed to play by the beginning of the season. Walker, because he transferred from Syracuse, wouldn't be eligible until late December anyway, but he isn't practicing because he isn't doing well enough academically by Wade's criteria. The same is true of Gatlin, who missed last year because he was "administratively ineligible."

Back on the court, with more talent and height -- "we have glass eaters this year," said walk-on Mitch Kasoff, who is not among them -- the competition in practice has picked up.

"Last year, we literally earned our spots against walk-ons and a lacrosse player," Lewis said. "This year, no one is going to get theirs on a silver platter." SCHEDULE

November: 18, Canadian National Team, 8; 27, vs. Loyola at MCI Harbor Classic in Baltimore, 9; 28, at MCI Harbor in Baltimore, 7 or 9.

December: 3, Winthrop, 8; 5, at West Virginia, 4; 8, at Mount St. Mary's, 7:30; 10, East Carolina, 8; 12, at LSU, 1:30; 28, South Carolina, 8; 30, Arkansas, 8.

January: 2, Wake Forest, 2; 6, at Missouri, 7:30; 9, Clemson, 1:30; 14, North Carolina, 9; 16, at Duke, 7; 20, at Virginia, 7:30; 27, N.C. State, 9.

February: 2, at Notre Dame, 8; 6, at Old Dominion, 7:35; 8, Georgia Tech, 9; 10, at Clemson, 7:30; 13, Duke, 9; 17, at Georgia Tech, 7:30; 20, at North Carolina, 2; 25, Maryland-Eastern Shore, 8; 27, at Wake Forst, 1:30.

March: 3, at N.C. State, 9; 5, Virginia, 1:30; 11-13, at ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., tba.