Stokes is wise old freshman Terp hit peaks, valleys as phenom in Philly


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."

Ultimately, Stokes chose Maryland and the ACC over Temple or Massachusetts in the Atlantic 10.

"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."

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