Terps' top-rate freshman class gives program a major boost Williams pleased with added depth


COLLEGE PARK -- It has been rated among the top 10 recruiting classes in the country. It has been called Maryland's best group of incoming freshmen since Tom McMillen and Len Elmore came in together more than 20 years ago.

What began with the signings last November of DeMatha point guard Duane Simpkins and Harker Prep swingman Exree Hipp came to a happy ending in June when Johnny Rhodes announced that he received the necessary college board score to be admitted to Maryland.

"It was a very good recruiting class before Johnny got his score," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "Now, it's a great class."

Though Maryland's recruiting class was rated seventh in the country by USA Today before Rhodes qualified, Williams looks upon it only as the group that will help lead the Terrapins back into the upper echelon of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Along with Mario Lucas, a 6-9, 215-pound forward from Memphis, Tenn., and Nemanja Petrovic, a 6-10, 235-pound center from Yugoslavia, it gives Maryland players at each position on the court.

It also gives Williams the depth and versatility he hasn't had during his first three seasons in College Park.

"We've had some very good players who were already in the program when I got here -- guys like Walt [Williams], Tony [Massenburg] and Jerrod [Mustaf]," said Williams. "But after the first three or four, there was a pretty big drop-off. Now, I think we can go seven or eight deep without being hurt."

While Rhodes played part time with the other freshmen on a summer league team at Georgetown, Hipp made the biggest impression. Mike Gielen, who helped coach the Kenner League team, said, "Exree's probably the most talented player I've seen go to Maryland."

It will be interesting to see what happens come Nov. 1, when practice begins. As a coach, Williams welcomes the competition the youngergroup will provide for the sophomores who saw a little time last year and for seniors who have barely been pushed in practice for most of their careers.

And the players, freshmen and returnees alike, are looking forward to it, too.

"It's going to be great," said sophomore forward John Walsh, who'll be fighting for playing time with another newcomer, James Spears, a transfer from Temple. "It's going to bring us to the next level. I think everybody just wants to win."

Said Lucas: "We're not looking to take over. We're just looking to help out the team."

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