A popular offseason hotspot for Maryland basketball players was the baseline of a basketball court, where they awaited a hand signal or verbal cue to start running, again and again. The routine was dubbed "the ladder drill," consisting of various sprints completed in a set time.

Players ran more than they ever had during the offseason, planning to return this season to the up-tempo, full-court style they and their coach, Gary Williams, embrace. Several players said they have never been in better condition to start a season.

"Last year we got tired in some games because we did not do as much running," senior Nik Caner-Medley said. "I would be surprised if any team in the ACC had as much of a grueling offseason conditioning program as we did. . . . We can press against anyone."

The sometimes frenetic style was on display during the first half of Maryland's first exhibition game last week against St. Francis Xavier. The first 10 times the Terps employed full-court pressure following a made basket, they stole the ball four times.

Expect another glimpse of the up-tempo look tonight, when Maryland hosts Virginia Union in its final tuneup before starting the regular season Nov. 18 against Fairleigh Dickinson. Both Williams and players said they'd like to press all 40 minutes of games if circumstances allowed.

"That's the style Coach likes, and that's why I came here," senior Chris McCray said.

Williams added, "We will press more this year. . . . We will run."

The roster is conducive to running. Maryland is deep; its ninth-best player is not considered much worse than its fifth best. And not only are the perimeter players athletic, but big men such as James Gist and Ekene Ibekwe can "fly around the court for a whole half," as Williams described it.

The return of point guard D.J. Strawberry, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in mid-January, will benefit the team's style in two areas. Defensively, the 6-foot-5 junior is the team's best on-ball defender. Offensively, Strawberry gives the Terps a pass-first point guard capable of pushing the ball and finding teammates streaking toward the basket.

So far, players see the rewards of the training. McCray said he would get tired during the middle of practice last season, but now he can put up 300 shots without getting fatigued. "Last year," he said, "I missed 100 shots I should have made" in games.

Backup guard Mike Jones, who broke out for 19 points in the first exhibition, also ran on his own in the offseason and now doesn't get fatigued, explaining, "Basically, I feel I can go forever." And when Strawberry compared his fitness level to this time last year, he simply called his condition last November "terrible."

Terrapins Note: Williams yesterday announced the signing of a four-man recruiting class that Rivals.com has ranked as the nation's 18th-best during the early signing period.

The recruits formally announced yesterday, guard Greivis Vasquez of Montrose Christian and small forward Landon Milbourne of Oak Hill Academy, will join point guard Eric Hayes of Potomac (Va.) High and power forward Jerome Burney of Westlake High in Atlanta, whose signings were announced Wednesday.