The Maryland men's basketball team won a school-record 28 games last season, then had to bid farewell to four starters, including guard Steve Francis, the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft.
Despite that and the presence of just nine players who are on scholarship, Coach Gary Williams and his team are refusing to call this a rebuilding campaign. "I really don't like the term rebuilding," Williams said. "Rebuilding makes it seem like there are no players in the program. We have one of the best players in the country."
Junior forward Terence Morris is that player, but Francis gave up his final season of eligibility and center Obinna Ekezie, forward Laron Profit and guard Terrell Stokes completed their eligibility. As a result, Maryland likely will have no seniors in a starting lineup of freshman point guard Steve Blake, redshirt sophomore off-guard Juan Dixon, sophomore forward Danny Miller, Morris and sophomore Lonny Baxter or redshirt junior Mike Mardesich at center. The team's only senior is walk-on guard Matt Hahn.
Like most teams around the nation, Maryland will begin practice tonight at midnight. But the Terrapins begin their season Nov. 17 with a Preseason NIT first-round game at home against San Francisco. If they reach the semifinals, they could play Kentucky. They also have early-season games against Kentucky, Iowa, Illinois and either Seton Hall or George Washington.
The Sporting News's preseason college basketball magazine assesses the Terrapins in a fashion that seems to give them no credit for past performance and can do nothing but motivate them: It ranks them 59th in the nation and predicts they will not play in the NCAA tournament, something they have done in each of the past six seasons.
"We lost a lot, but we've got just as much coming back," Morris said. "I feel this is just as talented a team as last year, but we're younger."
Elsewhere among area Division I men's teams:
Coach Art Perry said his team's main concerns will be improving its shooting percentage and rebounding from last season, when the Eagles went 9-19. Senior Jarion Childs probably will start at one of the guard positions, depending on whether freshman Hasheem Alexander wins the point guard job, or junior college transfer Ronald Dodson wins the shooting guard job.
"The one good thing is we're going to be good at a lot of different positions, and no one can take playing time for granted," Perry said.
The Patriots return all but one starter from last season's Colonial Athletic Association champion. But that starter is all-CAA point guard Jason Miskiri. Junior Tremaine Price (Parkdale) is favored to replace Miskiri, but he could face competition from freshman Tyrone Tiggs and junior Erik Herring, who is the incumbent at small forward. The Patriots also have 1998-99 CAA player of the year George Evans, a junior, at forward.
"One player cannot replace a player of [Miskiri's] caliber," Coach Jim Larranaga said. "We really have two point guards. Both players have to produce the same kind of results that we've had over the past two years."
Although the Colonials return one of their top players, junior guard Mike King, second-year Coach Tom Penders must replace point guard Shawnta Rogers and forward Yegor Mescheriakov.
George Washington has depth in the front court with forwards Francisco de Miranda, Antxon Iturbe and Pat Ngongba and center Alberto Roma. However, King's back-court teammates are less experienced. Junior college transfer Bernard Barrow and freshman Val Brown (Lee) will vie for the starting point guard spot; both will play significantly. Freshman Chris Monroe, an All-Met at Good Counsel last season, will play guard and forward.
The Hoyas look to return to the NCAA tournament after losing to Princeton in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament last season. Every significant player is back for Coach Craig Esherick, who will be in his first full season after John Thompson's departure. Guards Kevin Braswell (13.5 points per game) and Anthony Perry (14 points) each made last season's Big East Conference all-rookie team. Junior small forward Nat Burton was the team's best defensive player last year. Inside, there are 6-11 Ruben Boumtje Boumtje and 6-10 Jameel Watkins.
The Hoyas have added a recruiting class that is expected to contribute immediately, led by 6-10 center Wesley Wilson and power forward Courtland Freeman. Inside player Lee Scruggs is expected to transfer from Daytona Beach (Fla.) Community College and be eligible for the second half of the season.
Georgetown will have an early indication of its ability. Its first opponent at the Maui Invitational, Nov. 22, is Memphis. A victory likely would get a meeting with North Carolina.
The Bison, 2-25 in Coach Kirk Saulny's first season, have many issues facing them during the preseason. Chief among them are improving the front-court play and overall depth. Junior point guard Ali Abdullah, who averaged 13 points and 6.5 assists per game last season, is the top returning starter, but Saulny said he could be pushed by freshman Ron Williamson. That means all positions are open.
The Bison's nonconference schedule includes games at DePaul, Louisiana State, Tulane, North Carolina, Michigan State, Delaware and a game against Georgetown at MCI Center.
The Midshipmen need to find a top defensive player to replace Skip Victor, an all-Patriot League player who graduated. Coach Don DeVoe will also be looking to improve the team's outside shooting after a season in which the Midshipmen made 30 percent of their three-point shots. Three starting spots are virtually assured: junior Reggie Skipworth at point guard, junior Chris Williams (13.7 points per game last season) at shooting guard and senior Sitapha Savane at one of the post spots.
The Cavaliers have a strong class of incoming players, led by freshman guard Majestic Mapp, a McDonald's high school all-American last season. They also get back center Colin Ducharme, who missed most of last season because of a broken foot. Better, and more players mean bigger expectations for Coach Pete Gillen's second season.
"I like having more expectations," said Gillen, whose injury- and graduation-depleted team last season went 14-16. "That means you have chances, you have opportunities and you have talent."
The Hokies begin their first season under Coach Ricky Stokes, who spent last year as an assistant at Texas. The chief issue for the team during the preseason will be acclimating to his system, since four starters return from last season's team, which went 13-15 (7-9 Atlantic 10).
Special correspondent Steve Argeris contributed to this report.
MIDNIGHT MADNESS EVENTS TONIGHT
American: 10:45 p.m., Bender Arena
Event includes charity faculty-staff game, activities for alumni and trustees, music and skills contests and scrimmages involving men's and women's teams. Two students will be chosen at random to shoot for a full scholarship.
George Mason: 10:30 p.m., Patriot Center
Event includes performers, music, contests and prizes, and men's and women's practices.
George Washington: 10:45 p.m., Smith Center
Will feature players from men's and women's teams and three-on-three competitions involving student organzations, mascots, music, performers and a laser show. The master of ceremonies will be NewsChannel 8's Glenn Harris.
Georgetown: 10:30 p.m., McDonough Arena
Georgetown's first midnight madness event is by ticket only and is sold out. It will include a pep rally, laser show, entertainment and exhibitions by the men's and women's teams.
Howard: 10 p.m., Burr Gymnasium
There will be live entertainment and giveaways prior to men's and women's team introductions and skills exhibitions.
Maryland: 9:30 p.m., Cole Field House
Men's and women's teams will scrimmage at midnight following evening of contests, giveaways and live entertainment. First 5,000 fans will receive T-shirts.
Virginia Tech: 11 p.m., Cassell Coliseum
Event features autograph sessions with the men's and women's teams, shooting contests for fans, and scrimmages by the teams.
Note: Virginia will hold "Hoos in the Hall" events Oct. 29 at University Hall at 7:30 p.m. Navy will not have an event.
CAPTION: Maryland Coach Gary Williams calls Terence Morris one of the best players in the nation. Many area teams open season with Midnight Madness tonight.