Terps men looking forward to warming up in Orlando

Maryland men head to Orlando early to beat snowstorm.

The Maryland men's basketball team was excited by its inclusion in this year's NCAA tournament on many levels.

There was the fact that coach Mark Turgeon, as well as junior guard Melo Trimble and senior center Damonte Dodd, are going to their third straight with the Terps. The team's three freshmen starters and graduate transfer L.G. Gill are going to their first.

There was also the fact that despite a late-season slide that saw the Terps lose six of their last nine regular-season games and then get bounced out of the Big Ten tournament in the quarterfinals on what was a home-away-from-homecourt in Washington, Maryland (24-8) received a higher-than-expected No. 6 seed.

And there was, of course, the destination.

While Turgeon will make sure that his players don't look at the trip to Orlando as an early start to the school's spring break, which officially begins Saturday, it's hard to ignore a location just a few hours from traditional college getaways such as Daytona Beach and South Beach.

They certainly won't think they're in Buffalo.

"Orlando is definitely one of the featured places I think," said freshman guard Kevin Huerter, who along with Anthony Cowan, Justin Jackson and Gill will be making their NCAA tournament debuts Thursday against 11th seed Xavier at Amway Center.

Getting there proved to be a little tricky for the Terps, given the snowstorm that is expected to pummel the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Monday night. Turgeon received permission from the NCAA, which provides transportation, to allow the Terps to leave before it started snowing.

"Because there's a potential snowstorm coming in, and we tend to overreact to weather, we're working on trying to get out of here Monday night," Turgeon said Sunday. "We'll see if the NCAA will be on board with that. It wouldn't be a bad place to be — Orlando."

While getting out of Maryland could be difficult for fans, getting out of Dayton, Ohio, where the tournament begins with four play-in games Tuesday and Wednesday, could be tough for Mount St. Mary's.

A spokesman for the school said the team had not encountered any travel issues so far, but should the Mountaineers win Tuesday, they would go to Buffalo, a city notorious for its record snowfalls.

By then, the Terps will have had a couple of days to work on their jump shots, though probably not their suntans.

Huerter said he texted his family in Clifton Park, N.Y., after the announcement about Maryland's game was made Sunday.

"I said, 'Lucky you guys, you guys get a little vacation out of this,'" Huerter said Sunday. "It should be a lot of fun. Obviously it's going to be warmer there with the snowstorm coming up here. The location will be fun, but you've got to take care of business, too."

Turgeon is excited about his players getting to play where the NBA's Orlando Magic play their home games, and possibly have his family with him. The father of three often allows his three children to pick at least one road game a season.

"We've got some young kids in our family, hopefully get to travel, go to Disneyland or whatever down there," Turgeon said. "It will be a lot of fun."

It's Disney World, but the point is that the Terps might be able to combine pleasure with business. Turgeon should consult his Hall of Fame predecessor, Gary Williams, who broke tradition in 2001 when his team played the West Regional in Anaheim, a few miles from Disneyland.

Williams' daughter, Kristin Scott, remembered calling him that week when the team arrived after winning their first two NCAA tournament games in Boise, Idaho, to tell him he should allow his players to do something fun, like Disneyland.

Typically one to keep his team sequestered around the hotel from the time it arrived for an NCAA tournament game, Williams told his grown daughter that his players were already at America's most famous amusement park a couple of days after beating a Lefty Driesell-coached Georgia State team in Boise.

"I almost fell out of my chair," Scott recalled in an interview the following year.

Though Williams doesn't remember going to Disneyland, Lonny Baxter does.

"We had a good outing in Boise, and he wanted us to relax a little bit," Baxter said Monday. "We were in Anaheim, we had a tough opponent [coming up] in Georgetown. Coach was like a father to us; that's something a father would do for his kids."

Baxter said the basketball was a lot more memorable than Space Mountain.

"To be honest, I was a little bored. We were all adults and Disneyland is for children," said Baxter, who was a junior at the time. "It was a nice bonding trip for us. Taking pictures with Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. We didn't want to get on too many rides and risk any injuries."

It proved to be a pretty good precursor for Baxter and the Terps.

Baxter won the first of his two straight regional Most Valuable Player awards.

The following week, in Minneapolis, Maryland played in its first Final Four.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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