Terps basketball programs in harmony as ACC exit looms


In a big-time college sports world dominated by revenues and ratings, it's fairly obvious that women's basketball will never achieve the same level of popularity that has turned the men's game into television gold.

But the response to Friday night's "Maryland Madness" celebration at Cole Field House proved that the University of Maryland really does enjoy the best of both worlds.

The estimated crowd of 11,500 cheered wildly as the Terps trotted out legendary coaches Lefty Driesell and Gary Williams to take a bow with current coach Mark Turgeon, and the fans showed similar affection for pioneering women's coach Dottie McKnight, Hall of Famer Chris Weller and Brenda Frese, who took the Terp women to the mountaintop in 2006.

Obviously, there have been some bumpy stretches of road for Maryland basketball over the past half century or so, but there's no crime in romanticizing the past at a time when the two teams are preparing for their final season in the ACC.

The thing that stood out as Turgeon and Frese sat down at the end of the night for a dual news conference was the way the men's and women's programs have achieved a level of harmony not seen since Driesell once played center on the scout team during a women's practice.

"It's awesome,'' Frese said. "When coach Turgeon came in, it's been seamless. The communication we have. We help each other out. The ability to be able to communicate and work together … that's how it should be. We're Maryland, and at the end of the day, we're all trying to put Maryland on the map.

"So, it's huge. Having had places where it hasn't been that way, and then to have the support we've had from Day One from Coach Turgeon has been just amazing."

Though Frese made no mention of any institutional tension during the nine years she spent in similar proximity to Williams, it was well known that the major athletic programs had become somewhat Balkanized under former athletic director Debbie Yow. Current AD Kevin Anderson appears to have done a good job of creating a more collegial environment, and Turgeon said Friday night that the men's and women's teams should work hand in hand as Maryland gets ready to tackle the Big Ten.

"I just think that's the way to do things,'' he said. "We're all in this together. Obviously I can learn from Brenda and her staff and the things that they do. We communicate, whether it's about X's and O's or recruiting, and we learn from each other. She can obviously sell Maryland pretty well, and I think her their staff has helped us sell Maryland, so it's been, like she said, seamless."

The point of Friday night's trip down memory lane was to forge a link between the school's storied basketball past and a new era that will feature new conference rivalries and — everyone hopes — a new level of national recognition.

There has been talk about strengthening that link by scheduling an occasional game at Cole, something that Anderson and the coaches have indicated they would like to do, but the decision to move this year's season-opening house party back into the old facility, even though the event was a rousing success, may have proven that idea to be better in theory than reality.

The old arena would require some costly temporary upgrades that might be hard to justify — without some kind of private sponsorship — in the wake of recent cutbacks in other athletic programs. And, though nostalgia is nice, there's a reason why they spent all that money to build the Comcast Center.

It really was like old times on Friday night, and the celebration of the Terps' hoops history served the dual purpose of energizing the fan base and educating a new generation of players and fans about Maryland's basketball legacy.

So, yes, there was a method to this "Madness."

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.