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Williams says bring on Carolina, bring on Duke

May 27, 1998|By BOB PARASILITI

Gary Williams is looking to crash a private party next winter.

Over the years, the voting meeting for the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason basketball poll has been rather exclusive. Be from North Carolina or don't come at all as UNC, Duke and, until recently, Wake Forest have dominated the show.

This time, the Maryland coach says he has what it takes to break up the Carolina clique after challenging for the league's regular-season title last season.

"I think we have a chance to be very good," Williams said at the recent Tour de Terp gathering at Beaver Creek Country Club. "We could be picked in the top two in the conference and in the top 10 in the nation to open the season."

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Williams has reason to carry a sly smile during his summer. He's becoming one of college basketball's more mentioned coaches again after the job he did last season and the recruiting class he landed for the upcoming season.

With all the work done, the usually intense Williams seems relaxed, with good reason.

Williams took a team with some glaring question marks and guided it to become one of the bigger surprises of the 1998 NCAA Tournament. The Terps served notice that they were for real by pushing then-defending national champion Arizona to the limit in the Sweet 16.

"Being third in the league last year was important to us," Williams said. "Then we went out and beat the Big Ten co-champs (Illlinois). Arizona thought they were going to sail through. We didn't shoot well in the first 10 minutes, and (Arizona guard Mike) Bibby hit a couple of shots, and we were still there in the end. We just ended up losing to the higher-seeded team."

Maryland lost three seniors - Rodney Elliott, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Matt Kovarik - to graduation. But with four of his top eight returning and a prime recruiting class, Williams has reloaded the Terps.

"Nowadays, you have to have depth," Williams said.

Obinna Ekezie, Laron Profit and Terrell Stokes take over the mantelpiece as seniors, but the upcoming stars are two sophomores - seven-foot center Mike Mardesich and 6-foot-8 forward Terence Morris, who played at Thomas Johnson.

"Terence got better every week, and he had a great NCAA Tournament," Williams said. "He's got that college confidence now. I expect him to have a great sophomore year."

Maryland's reinforcements are deep. Topping the list are Danny Miller, one of the top recruits in the country, and coveted point guard Steve Francis, who led Allegany College to the National Junior College tournament.

All the additions give Maryland a needed depth for next season and Williams a chance to challenge the ACC's big boys.

"We'll see how things go," he said. "We won't know who will be starting until practice starts. That's nothing different. Every year is the same thing."

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