When he left his Philadelphia house for Simon Gratz High School yesterday morning, Terrell Stokes didn't know whether he was going to Maryland or Temple. A news conference to announce his choice of college had been called for 1 p.m.
"I told him we were going to give him until the end of second period or the press conference was going to be canceled," Bill Ellerbee, his coach, would say later.
It already had been put off twice, from Monday until Wednesday and then again on Wednesday. The speculation was that the longer it took, the more likely it was that Stokes would wind up staying home in Philadelphia to play at Temple.
But sometime between the time he arrived at school and the end of second period, the 6-foot point guard had chosen the Terrapins over the Owls. In doing so, Stokes said he was picking the Atlantic Coast Conference over the Atlantic 10.
"The one thing that gave Maryland the edge was the conference," said Stokes. "That's where mostly all the top guards are, all the top players. It has atmosphere. It's big-time. I've already dreamed of being in that conference and I'm fulfilling a dream."
For Maryland, the lightning-fast, defensive-minded Stokes also is fulfilling a need: the addition of a true point guard, both to back up Duane Simpkins and play alongside the 6-1 senior. Stokes becomes the first highly rated point guard the Terps have signed since Simpkins came out of DeMatha three years ago.
"If we had a weakness last year, it was our inability to penetrate off the dribble," Maryland coach Gary Williams said last night. "Both Terrell and [recruit] Laron Profit [another Maryland signee] will give us that."
Stokes averaged 13.1 points, 9.4 assists, 9.2 rebounds and 5.8 steals in helping Gratz to the Philadelphia high school title game. The school is a perennial powerhouse that most recently produced North Carolina star Rasheed Wallace.
Stokes had to wait until the spring signing period to get his SAT score in accordance with NCAA guidelines. Due to changes in the test, the old 700 combined score has been replaced by an 820. Stokes reportedly scored a 910 on his most recent SAT attempt. He made his official visit to College Park last weekend.
Long considered the front-runner, Maryland had to sweat it out this week. Stokes and his mother, Patricia, indicated to local reporters as late as Wednesday night that Temple's strong push had put some doubts in the player's head.
"I was still dubious two hours ago," Stokes said at the news conference. "It was a hard decision."
The addition of Stokes more than makes up for the Terps not being able to sign Louis Bullock last fall. Bullock, a 6-3 guard from Laurel Baptist, wound up signing with Michigan after Maryland coaches refused to guarantee him a chance to start as a freshman.
Asked how much he expects to play, Stokes said, "We'll see about that when I get there. Ain't nobody guaranteeing a starting spot."
Said Williams: "The thing about Terrell is that he expects to play. He's played against good competition in high school and in the summer. I don't think he's afraid of anything."
Stokes joins Profit, a 6-6 shooting guard from Camden, Del., as well as 6-9, 260-pound center Obinna Ekezie of Nigeria in this year's recruiting class. "They've signed a big man and another guard, I'm the last piece of the puzzle," said Stokes.
Actually, Maryland hopes the last piece of this recruiting class is another Philadelphia player, 6-10, 230-pound forward/center Lari Ketner of Roman Catholic High School.
"Our depth next year will probably be better than it was last year," said Williams. "You don't lose a Joe Smith without it having some effect on your team. But hopefully, the effect will be positive for some of the guys."