Terps launch season of change at Maryland Madness

Say this about Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams: The guy

knows how to make an entrance.

The Terrapins informally launched a new season Friday night at

Maryland Madness, an annual extravaganza designed to introduce the

team to its fans. Six new players made their debut at Comcast

Center, but the focus was on Williams, now in his 22nd season at

his alma mater.

After the players were introduced, Williams was depicted on the

video board flying a fighter jet.

The focus then shifted to the court. Williams walked through the

tunnel of the arena amid smoke and the sound of guitars. He was

dressed as a pilot, wore sunglasses and carried a helmet.

Then, of course, he pumped his fist to the crowd.

Thus began a new era of Maryland basketball.

Seniors Greivis Vasquez, Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes are

gone from a squad that last season finished tied atop the Atlantic

Coast Conference and advanced to the NCAA tournament for a second

straight season.

”This is an exciting time of year for me,” Williams told the

crowd. ”We’re going to have a great team, so just be with

us.”

Maryland Madness began as Midnight Madness back when Lefty

Driesell was head coach back in the 1970s.

”We’ve got to keep the tradition going,” Williams said

afterward. ”This is like a thank you to the fans for what they did

the last 22 years for me. For the players, it’s a great chance to

enjoy themselves. This is a good night for them.”

The team’s success will depend partly on the leadership of

seniors Dino Gregory, Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker. The six

newcomers – including five freshmen – must also contribute.

On this night, however, it was all about having a good time.

”It’s more fun than usual for the fans because we have so many

new guys and they get to meet them for the first time,” Gregory

said. ”I know the fans are going to excited about that, and so

will the new guys.”

Although Vasquez was gone, his No. 21 was not. His jersey number

was inherited by freshman guard Pe’Shon Howard, who got permission

from Vasquez to wear it.

Asked how it felt to wear No. 21, Howard replied, ”He’s such a

great player and left on such a high note, I want to try to keep

that going. But Greivis is Greivis, and it’s hard to compete with

that. I want to leave my own legacy – get it done that way.”

One of the traditions that still stands is player introductions,

followed by a dunk under the spotlight. With everyone watching, the

last thing a player wants to do is clang one off the rim.

”That’s the worst. I remember Mike Jones, when he missed his

three or four years ago,” Bowie said. ”You miss the dunk and you

never, ever hear the end of it.”

Sadly, Bowie was the only player to miss. While everyone else

went conservative, he tried to bounce the ball off the backboard

and couldn’t jam it home.

Another tradition: the alumni game. This one featured Juan Dixon

and Byron Mouton, members of the 2002 national championship

team.

Years down the road, Bowie might take part of the alumni

scrimmage. But he had a feeling of finality before taking the

court.

”Knowing it’s my last one, I’m very excited,” Bowie said. ”At

the same time, knowing it’s my last one, I’m kind of dreading

it.”