Sunday, October 19, 2003

Midnight Madness at Maryland

Originally posted on "TerpTown" on the network and syndicated on Yahoo

As fans approached the Comcast Center Friday night on their way to attending “Midnight Madness”, they saw a large spotlight circling the night sky, similar to a Hollywood premiere. Upon entering the arena, they were not disappointed; the Maryland athletic department delivered an evening of “Showtime.”

After being treated to the team’s 2002-03 highlight video “A Decade of Dominance”, all in attendance gave a warm standing ovation to the voice of the Terrapins for the last 25 years, Johnny Holliday.

Holliday introduced the rosters for the annual alumni game, including a mix of familiar names and relatively obscure members of teams past. We saw a few flashes of former glory from some of the best known former stars.

Keith Booth, who received the warmest ovation of the alumni (and who recently completed work on his bachelor’s degree), picked the pocket of another former Terps hero, Ernie Graham, and took the ball in for a score.

Graham, who still holds the school’s single game scoring record with his 44 points against NC State in 1978, had his moments during the game. He showed, along with former guard Jeff Baxter, the damage they could have done if the three-point shot had been part of the game when they played. Both Graham and Baxter knocked down several shots beyond the arc.

Cedric Lewis, the school record holder for blocked shots in a game and a season, showed that he could still be a force inside. His former teammate Dave Dickerson, now a Terps’ assistant coach, took a rebound coast to coast for a hoop.

The pace of the game during the two ten-minute halves was sluggish, as were some of the players. That never matters in these types of games, however, nor does the final score. It’s always great to see former players, stars or not, come back home.

As my wife and I enjoyed the spirit squad performance that followed the alumni game, I made the mistake of sharing my dream of being one of the male cheerleaders that got to throw the girls up in the air and catch them. After she stopped laughing, my bride speculated on the chiropractors and orthopedic surgeons I could have kept in business given my natural klutziness and the low percentage of successful catches I was likely to have made in that role.

The school’s Gymkana group followed the spirit squad onto the Comcast Center floor. I had heard about how entertaining these performers were, but I had no idea just how good they were until watching them live for the first time. The rapid-fire sequence of progressively more difficult vaults these young men and women successfully made were amazing, but the finale was spectacular.

My wife (I was speaking to her again by this time) said when they brought out a large hoop, “They’re not going to jump through fire, are they?” Indeed they did, and at the same breakneck speed with which they performed their earlier vaults. A couple of vaulters had to get patted down after landing when they brushed against the flames, but the stunts went off without any apparent injury. An appreciative crowd roared their approval just before the lights dimmed and the main act of the evening was about to begin.

First came the spotlight introductions of the women’s basketball team and coaching staff. I’m no women’s basketball expert, but it sounds like Coach Brenda Frese, the 2002 National Coach of the Year, has a very strong recruiting class that should help rebuild the once strong Terrapin program. She felt the love from the spectators when she asked, “Is this the best place in the country to be tonight or what?”

The arena went dark again in anticipation of the introduction of the men’s basketball team. On the video board, an animated Terrapin that probably could not pass Olympic drug testing flexed his oversized muscles and whipped up the crowd. A laser light show followed where each player’s autograph was drawn onto the basketball court accompanied by some hard driving music.

At this point, the atmosphere felt as much like that at a rock convert as one at a basketball game. The arena was charged with electricity and the fans their adrenaline pumping.

One by one, the members of the men’s basketball team were introduced, dribbling and dunking in their various styles. Not surprisingly, the most excited player appeared to be point guard John Gilchrist. He flashed his infectious smile and had an extra bounce (nearly a hop) in step. After his dunk, Gilchrist came up with his own funky little dance that the fans loved.

As soon as the last assistant coach was introduced, the fans started chanting “Gary, Gary, Gary!” Within moments, the spotlight shone on Coach Gary Williams riding a Harley onto the Comcast Center floor. Williams, wearing the obligatory leather jacket, told the crowd, “I always wanted to ride a Harley once. That was it. The first and last time.” He also said to the masses “You’re the best fans in the country. There’s no question about it.” Everyone loves to be told they are the best, and those in attendance Friday night were no exception, roaring with approval to Williams’ comment.

The teams concluded the evening (now early morning) with three separate scrimmages, two by the men sandwiching one by the women. During the first men’s scrimmage, Williams sat impassively with his legs folded, even when players missed easy shots or threw the ball out of bounds. Williams seemed more interested in talking to late arrival Walt Williams, “The Wizard”, Maryland’s single season scoring record holder, then yelling at his players. By the end of the second scrimmage, Gary was seen muttering to himself, probably easing himself into full blown coaching mode for Saturday’s first REAL practice.

A few observations from the men’s action: Nik Caner-Medley is fully recovered from the dislocated ankle he suffered in the Sweet 16 loss to Michigan State in March. If anything, he looked even more athletic than he did last season. Gilchrist scored both by penetrating and knocking down three’s. Mike Jones made a couple of off-balance three’s that he probably shouldn’t think about taking in a real game, but it was still impressive to see the freshman knock them down.

This was the first Midnight Madness event I have ever attended. The main reason I had passed in previous years was the midnight part. I’m more of a Eight O’clock Madness guy myself. I was not disappointed.

I have seen fans on the message board upset about the empty seats and saying Friday night lacked the enthusiasm of last year. Well, since it wasn’t the first event in a brand new arena following a National Championship with a returning nucleus of seniors that helped win that title, I guess this year’s event may have lost a bit of the edge. Regardless, it was still an exciting and spectacular way to start a new basketball season.

For the Terrapin coaches and players, it’s now time to get to work.

Notes From Under the Shell
For those wanting to see more pure basketball, the Terps will hold their annual Red-White scrimmage on Saturday, November 1 at the Comcast Center. This is open to the public and free of charge. The time is tentatively set for 10 a.m., but may change depending on the kickoff time for the Maryland-North Carolina game at Byrd Stadium that day. Keep an eye on the Terp Town message board for updates.

Caner-Medley has been selected for the first LeFrank Scholarship for men’s basketball. This is a scholarship that will be awarded annually to a player who exhibits extraordinary athletic, leadership, and scholarship abilities. Congratulations Nik!


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