Unexpected success, recruits could put Terps in bonus next year


Admit it. You didn't think the Maryland Terrapins would be this good this year. No one did, not your friends, not your paper boy, not your clergyman. No one.

Bans from postseason play, from live television and a seemingly devastating midseason injury to Walt Williams were supposed to leave those heroes on the half shell looking like so much turtle soup.

But something happened on the way to oblivion -- namely winning -- and because of it, some very important people -- namely recruits -- took notice of the team.

So Maryland's future, which already had some promise, may be even better than expected, despite the loss of seniors Cedric Lewis and Matt Roe.

"Given the fact that we have good players returning, we could have a really nice team," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose Terps will return to live TV but still will be ineligible for the NCAA tournament next season.

Three of the nation's top 50 high school players are said to have more than a passing interest in playing for Williams next season. Although the Terps have just two scholarships to offer for the coming year, any combination of the three will be welcome.

The trio includes Baltimore's Devin Gray, a 6-foot-7 center from St. Frances-Charles Hall, Donyell Marshall, a 6-8 forward from Reading, Pa., and 6-5 guard Johnny Rhodes from Washington.

Rhodes, who attends Dunbar High in Washington, has expressed a strong preference in attending Maryland, but his SAT scores are said to be below the 700 Proposition 48 mark that would allow him to play as a freshman. So he may attend a junior college or prep school.

Neither Gray nor Marshall have committed to a school, but both have been seen at Cole Field House recently on recruiting visits, and are said to have Maryland near or at the top of their lists.

Bob Gibbons, who publishes the All-Star Sports recruiting newsletter, says that Maryland has "an excellent chance" to land both Marshall, a slashing frontcourt player with good range whom Gibbons says is the best player on the East Coast, and Gray, who has considerable inside strength.

"That's going to put them in the top 15 [of recruiting classes] in terms of what they've had to overcome," said Gibbons. "It could be the best recruiting class in the country."

Gray, who averaged 24.6 points this season, is said to be considering Wake Forest, Clemson, Towson State and Maryland, with Maryland the front-runner.

Marshall will be visiting Syracuse this weekend, said Reading coach Mike Miller, who added that Marshall also is considering Connecticut, Villanova, Pittsburgh and Temple along with Maryland.

Miller said Marshall, who is averaging 26 points and 12 rebounds, probably will not decide on a school until sometime during the next signing period for NCAA letters of intent, which runs from early April through early May.

But Gibbons believes Maryland has an edge in the race for Marshall, given that he passed up an invitation to Pittsburgh's Dapper Dan Classic high school all-star game to play in this month's Capital Classic at Landover.

"Every high school kid in Pennsylvania wants to play at the Dapper Dan game," said Gibbons. "But he expressed a strong interest in playing in the Capital Classic. That's a big tip-off to me that he wants to come to Maryland."

The Terps already have received written commitments from Wayne Bristol, a 6-2 guard from Beltsville's High Point High School, who averaged 23 points a game this season, and 6-8 forward Geno Soto. Soto had played in Teaneck, N.J., for three years, averaging 25 points and 13 rebounds as a junior. But this fall he returned to his native Puerto Rico and played his final high school season there.

In addition, Chris Kerwin, a 7-foot center who sat out this year after transferring from Old Dominion, will be eligible to play next season. And Jesse Martin, a 6-4 swingman who started last season but took this year off to concentrate on his grades, is expected to rejoin the team.

The biggest question is whether Walt Williams will return. In preseason, many speculated that the 6-8 junior would consider leaving for the NBA, given the alleged weak nature of this year's collegiate senior class.

But then he suffered a broken left fibula and missed five weeks in the heart of the Atlantic Coast Conference season, vastly increasing the odds that he will return for his senior season.

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