The departures of John Walsh and Nemanja Petrovic leave Maryland perilously thin for 1993-94, but from a long-term perspective, they might be the best thing that ever happened to coach Gary Williams.
A month ago, Williams had only one scholarship to offer; now, he has three. Not only will the Terps survive without Walsh and Petrovic, but the two additional recruits also could help them return to prominence.
That is, if Williams can make up ground on Duke, Virginia and Florida State -- each of which already has added three top prospects -- not to mention North Carolina, where the talent is so deep, senior forward Pat Sullivan decided to redshirt.
Maryland couldn't compete with the ACC powers in the early signing period, not with only one precious scholarship available. But a large pool of players remains, and it's imperative Williams gets three good ones.
See, it isn't enough to put together two strong recruiting classes in a row, as Williams has done entering today's season opener against Georgetown. The top programs always recruit well, making it all the more difficult to catch up.
That's why Williams can't waste the opportunity created by the departures of Walsh, a reserve forward, and Petrovic, a backup center. His one scholarship was reserved for a big man. Now, he can set his goals higher.
"We're in pretty good shape with four freshmen and four sophomores," Williams said this week. "If we get three good players, it will give us a rotation where we'll never get stuck in a year with no scholarships. That's what we've been working toward."
Indeed, that's what the big boys do, year after year. Duke, Virginia and Florida State landed three of the nation's top six recruiting classes in the early signing period, according to Bob Gibbons, a talent evaluator in Lenoir, N.C.
So, what else is new?
The more successful programs "come on with a little different appeal to kids," Williams said. "They can recruit a kid without him seeing their faces. They can make phone calls, and that's enough."
Yet, even with scholarships available, it isn't easy to sign a player early. For one thing, a player can't make an official visit until he meets NCAA academic standards. Only a select few qualify before their senior years.
After that, the only contact permitted by the NCAA is during a summer league, on the player's visit to the school and on the coach's home visit. Dean Smith doesn't need anything more. Williams does.
To understand Williams' unique problems this year, consider his experiences with the two top players in Baltimore -- Cardinal Gibbons guard Steve Wojciechowski and Dunbar forward Norman Nolan.
Wojciechowski is a player in whom the Terps would have had interest -- if more than one scholarship had been available during the peak recruiting period. Desperate for size, Williams couldn't afford to recruit a 5-foot-11 point guard. Wojciechowski signed with Duke.
Nolan was just the opposite -- a 6-8 power forward who fit the program's needs. Williams tried to recruit him, but Nolan feared his playing time would be limited, and signed with Virginia.
"People see four freshmen and four sophomores -- it's not like before, when kids saw they'd be playing a whole lot of minutes," Williams said. "Now, what I hope they see is a need for a 6-foot-10, 250-pound player."
Williams would love to find three such players, but now he can explore other options as well. One obvious target would be former Dunbar star Michael Lloyd, the leading junior-college scorer in the nation last season.
Lloyd, a 6-2 point guard, is completing his second year at San Jacinto (Texas) Junior College after failing to qualify academically at Arkansas. He'd be a perfect match, with Duane Simpkins unproven at the point and Johnny Rhodes unproven as a scorer.
It's doubtful Lloyd is interested in Maryland -- his top choices are Oklahoma, California, Syracuse and Florida State, according to San Jacinto coach Scott Gernander. Lloyd's mother, Norma Solomon, said: "He doesn't like the University of Maryland."
The point is, Williams now has the option of pursuing such a player -- an option he didn't have before. "I don't think we're behind," Williams said. "You look around the country at how many kids signed early -- very few schools signed more than one."
Take last year -- Joe Smith signed with Maryland early, but Keith Booth did not. For months, Williams was planning on one scholarship, not three. Given this sudden opening, this unexpected break, he can't blow it.