Jalen Smith with a Maryland student at the Midnight Mile. (Maryland Athletics) ( /Maryland Athletics)

After the Maryland student union had begun to clear and College Park slowed down on a school night, hundreds of basketball fans — plus some students who just enjoy free food — headed in the direction of Ludwig Field as midnight approached.

Ravi Ramanathan and Pipa Munns, among the first few students to arrive around 10:50 p.m., didn’t attended the Midnight Mile last year, but now they’re seniors and didn’t want to miss their final chance. Munns attended every basketball home game last year. Ramanathan skipped only one. They registered for the event as soon as they saw the link. Their early arrival helped ensure that they’d leave with a free T-shirt, but also, Munns said, there wasn’t much else going on at this hour.

“She’s trying to get away from studying,” Ramanathan said jokingly of his girlfriend, who had a psychology exam Thursday morning.

Once the gate opened, the two drifted toward the start line as hundreds of their peers followed. The mile run that begins at midnight remains the centerpiece of this event, but the time before and after allows students to meet the players from the squad that is expected to be a preseason top-10 team.

The season schedule will begin Nov. 5 at home against Holy Cross.

In 1971, Maryland’s Lefty Driesell started Midnight Madness, an event marking the advent of the college basketball season that has become tradition across the country. To usher in the 100th season of Maryland basketball and to honor Driesell’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, the program hosted the Midnight Mile a year ago. The event returned in 2019, with an even larger turnout as students and players ran four laps around the track.

When Coach Mark Turgeon addressed the crowd, he reminded them of the tradition Driesell started and asked for their support this season at Xfinity Center.

“I won't say hello to every kid tonight, but I'll say hello to 70 percent of them and shake their hand and have a slice of pizza with them,” Turgeon said. “It's important. I want the students to know how important they are to us and our success.”

As far as the run itself, commitment levels varied. Some students warmed up on the track before the start and wore tank tops with Ricky Lindo Jr.-esque short shorts. Others wore jeans and had no intention to run whatsoever. Jalen Smith said he ran the entire mile. (“That shows a lot of character,” he said, acting serious through his lighthearted response. “I never cheat. I always take the full path, no matter how hard it is.”) Darryl Morsell said he ran 20 meters before stopping.

Brendan Canterberry, a sophomore from New Jersey, attended the event because he wanted the free T-shirt and many of his friends came. He likes basketball and enjoys running. Canterberry attended every Maryland home game last year and usually sat in the front row. He had already won a television and Under Armour gear at those games, and he won another raffle at the Midnight Mile. He received a trip that allows him and a guest to travel with the Maryland team to any road game.

“I’ve been really lucky since I’ve gotten here,” said Canterberry, who had a 9 a.m. class Thursday and ran the mile in 6 minutes 25 seconds. “Maybe because I’m out-of-state, they feel bad because I’m paying all this tuition.”

The players embrace the late-night event with their high energy, even after two practices Wednesday. They interact with the students and oblige to all photo requests. The hope is that those memories translate to strong student attendance, which in turn leads to a home-court advantage that’ll benefit this team through the season.

“They’re the fuel to our tank,” Smith said. “Every game, they’re always there for us — yelling in the crowd, cheering us on. Pretty much the only way we can really pay them back is by interacting with them and basically being a student with them.”

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