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When Williams talks Terps, city listens


Three days before Maryland opens basketball practice, coach Gary Williams was in Baltimore doing what comes naturally: selling basketball in general and Maryland in particular.

Now, though, the hard sell has become the soft sell.

"When I got to Maryland, I was told we couldn't recruit here because of things that happened in the past," Williams said yesterday, addressing the CEO Club of Baltimore at the USF&G; building. "But I was too stubborn or dumb to listen."

The basketball oasis once closed to Maryland has been reopened. From Dunbar, Williams recruited Keith Booth in 1993 and Rodney Elliott in 1994.

By Williams' estimate, he has spoken to Baltimore groups "close to 50 times" in the past six years.

"I rarely turn down a chance to speak," he said. "We have to sell the university."

A group of 25 local chief executive officers listened attentively to Williams' 20-minute speech.

"That's one of the things we were forced to do [coming in]," Williams said, "to move the program to where people here feel they're an important part of it. Nowadays, people are receptive. Keith Booth, Rodney Elliott had a lot to do with it. They've played well and done well academically."

Booth, a junior, is one of four returning starters for the Terps. Elliott has a chance to be the fifth starter. He'll compete with senior Mario Lucas and freshman recruit Obinna Ekezie for the right to replace Joe Smith, last season's national Player of the Year.

"Rodney worked the hardest of any of our players in the off-season with weightlifting and running," Williams said. "He put on 20 pounds of muscle in the weight room. . . . He has a 2.7 grade-point average, and we're very proud of what he's done for us."

The Terps will stage "Midnight Madness" tomorrow night at Cole Field House, including a visit by broadcaster Dick Vitale. There will be a Vitale look-alike contest, a slam-dunk exhibition, a brief team scrimmage and a three-point shootout featuring the Terps.

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