COLLEGE PARK -- Terrell Stokes has maturity beyond his 20 years, a level of confidence that abuts on cocky, and a style of play crafted on the playgrounds of Philadelphia.
For Maryland's precocious point guard, "freshman" is simply a misnomer.
Yet that is precisely what he is. A first-year college player. Happily for the Terps, Stokes is one of the most promising newcomers in a season when freshmen flourish around the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Several of them will be on display at Cole Field House tonight when Maryland (8-6, 1-3) takes on 18th-ranked Clemson (12-2, 3-2). The Tigers, fresh off a big upset of Wake Forest, likely will start four of their own.
Stokes won't start -- the point guard job still belongs to senior Duane Simpkins -- but he figures to be on the floor for the critical minutes, just as he was in Saturday's overtime victory against North Carolina State.
"He came in with a great deal of confidence," said Terps coach Gary Williams. "He expects to be good. He's got that confidence that borders on cocky. And that's good. I'd rather tell a guy to quit acting so cocky than . . . [Williams made a motion as if to push a player along]."
Stokes comes by his maturity the hard way. His father and mother divorced when he was 5. When he reached eighth grade, he had to spend 16 months in a court-adjudicated school in the suburbs of Philadelphia after running afoul of the law.
He spoke matter-of-factly yesterday about his wayward adolescence as a basketball prodigy who gave in to temptation.
"I grew up faster than a lot of guys my age," Stokes said. "Back when I was 8 or 9, I was playing [in leagues for] 14- to 16-year-olds.
"I got in a little trouble. I got locked up selling drugs and stuff like that. I went in in '90, got out in '91 after 16 months.
"The only thing was, I was still going to school, getting good grades and playing basketball. I made a promise to myself: I can't go out and do that anymore."
He left the Sleighton School to return to south Philadelphia in 1992, and by December he was attending Simon Gratz High, a traditional basketball powerhouse.
It was there that his career took off. But the turning point clearly was his time at Sleighton.
"Some kids go there and it has a negative effect," said Bill Ellerbee, the coach at Simon Gratz. "It had a positive effect for Terrell. He went there and learned from it."
At Gratz, Stokes played with the best -- he was a teammate of Rasheed Wallace two seasons -- and against the best. By Ellerbee's account, Stokes faced Stephon Marbury, now of Georgia Tech, then of Lincoln High in New York, no less than seven times.
"His court presence, I don't know if you teach that," Ellerbee said. "He came to us with a lot of that -- the way he played defense, the way he made plays."
Stokes, listed at 6 feet by Maryland, had phenomenal success in high school. With Stokes at the point and Wallace in the paint, Gratz went 31-0 and won the mythical national championship in 1992-93.
"I'll tell you what kind of player he is," Ellerbee said. "Terrell opened a game one time by hitting four straight threes. After that he didn't shoot again -- and finished with 12 assists."
Another time, Stokes had a staggering quadruple double: 29 points, 17 assists, 14 rebounds, 11 steals.
Of such numbers is unbridled confidence born.
"My confidence comes from playing so long," Stokes said. "I played so long and I played against so many great players.
"Coming up in Philadelphia was tough. You had to be good on the court or nobody would want to pick you up [in pickup games]. I wanted to be one of the best. When I'm on the court, I [feel like I] can do whatever I want."
It was tough leaving Philadelphia, too. There was the strong pull of Temple coach John Chaney, and a daughter who will be 2 in February. Ellerbee said there was "considerable pressure" on Stokes to stay home.
"The reason I wanted to stay was being close to home," Stokes said. "Plus I had a daughter and I wanted to see her grow up. . . .
"The reason I wanted to come away was, I had been in the city for 19 years. I saw everything, I knew everything. I just wanted to experience something different."
"They seemed like really good people down here," Stokes said. "I came to play for Gary Williams and play my style of basketball. And I was only two hours away from home. So I couldn't go wrong coming here."