Last season, when the Maryland men's basketball team won a school-record 28 games, Juan Dixon and Danny Miller became accustomed to their role as reserves. They would watch the first five or 10 minutes of a game and get a feel for how things were going before Coach Gary Williams would turn in their direction and tell them to get in the game.
But when the Terrapins tip off their season at home Wednesday night against San Francisco in the first round of the Preseason NIT, Dixon and Miller are two of the three Terrapins who will be making their first career starts. The other new starter is freshman point guard Steve Blake.
Junior forward Terence Morris and sophomore center Lonny Baxter are Maryland's only returning starters. Baxter started 10 of the final 11 games last season after Obinna Ekezie ruptured his Achilles' tendon on Feb. 9, giving Williams one of his most inexperienced teams. In addition to the youthful starting lineup, freshmen Drew Nicholas and Tahj Holden are in Maryland's eight-player rotation.
"I'm only a sophomore athletically [so] being one of the older guys, it sounds funny," Dixon said. "But I don't mind having that older guy role."
Excluding Morris, who was named to the Associated Press preseason all-American team and was selected the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason player of the year, perhaps no one will shoulder a bigger load this season for the Terrapins than Dixon. The redshirt sophomore guard averaged 14.9 minutes last season as an outside shooting specialist. This season, though, he will start at shooting guard and has improved his ability to create his own shot instead of waiting to spot up. Also, Dixon will be Blake's backup at point guard.
"I'm excited and glad that Coach is giving me the opportunity to play some point this year," Dixon said. "I've worked really hard on my point guard skills. I think I've become a better passer and a better ballhandler. It's all about confidence, though. If you have confidence, you can do anything."
Williams has said he is more concerned with Dixon's stamina than his ability to play point guard.
"I don't want it to affect his game because he is a good scorer, not just a shooter, he finds a way to get to the basket," Williams said. "The way Juan looks at it, it's more minutes."
Dixon said being in the starting lineup will alter his pregame warmup because he will take fewer shots before a game. He also said being a starter means having a significantly different role.
"Last year, myself, Danny and Lonny were coming off the bench trying to bring a spark to the team and bring energy to the floor and give the team a lift," Dixon said. "This year, we have to set the tone for the guys on the bench. They have to come in and give us energy."
Miller, a McDonald's all-American as a senior at Rancocas Valley High School in Mount Holly, N.J., averaged 4.2 points and 2.1 rebounds as a freshman last season. He knows the Terrapins are counting on him to increase his production this season.
"The biggest adjustment is as soon as you're done with warmups, you have to be ready to play right away," Miller said. ". . . It's harder to do because you can't just watch the game and see what's going on and adjust to what is going on out there. You've got to set the tempo right away."
Perhaps Baxter knows best what Miller and Dixon will be asked to do. After Ekezie went down, Baxter increased his output to 8.9 points and 4.6 rebounds as a starter.
"I thought [starting] would be easier but it didn't seem like it once I started," Baxter said. "It's a lot more responsibility but you've just go to handle it."