CLEMSON, S.C. -- First, it was freshman Obinna Ekezie. Then it was Terrell Stokes and Laron Profit, two more first-year players. Last week, even sophomore Rodney Elliott, once buried deep on the bench, has been rediscovered.
The longer the Maryland Terrapins play, the younger they get.
When the Terps roll through Littlejohn Coliseum here today to play Clemson in a noon tip-off, they will feature a distinctly youthful profile, even with the return of prodigal son Duane Simpkins.
Make no mistake -- in four fretful months, the Terps have gone from a senior-dominated team to one that finds a new young hero almost every game.
And in the past three games, they found depth coach Gary Williams had only dreamed about.
Even though Simpkins, fresh from a three-game NCAA suspension, will be reinstated as the starting point guard against Clemson, Williams said yesterday he won't hesitate to use Stokes or Profit at the position if need be.
"It'll be a feel," Williams said of playing time at point guard. "Duane might play great because he has fresh legs. Or he might struggle early and we have to get him out early and then get him back in."
Simpkins sat out three games after attempting to repay a university loan for parking tickets through his former AAU coach, a violation of NCAA rules. In his absence, Stokes, as the starter, and Profit helped direct Maryland's offense to its two best shooting games of the season. Both were 60-percent-plus outings; both were victories.
"We found out some things about our team," Williams said. "There's always some positive if you want to look at the situation. We found out Laron was pretty good with the ball. We found out Terrell can play. And Terrell will be in better shape next year, given that he didn't play for six weeks [with a back injury at the start of the season]."
The Terps (14-9, 6-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) became passing wizards the past two games. They collected 30 assists in a rout of Missouri on Sunday and 22 more in a win over North Carolina State on Thursday night.
"We're running the offense better now," Williams said. "Our passing's gotten a lot better. . . . Terrell does a great job distributing the ball. When you get that going, it's hard for the other guys not to do that, too."
Including a 12-assist effort against Missouri, Stokes averaged seven assists in his three-game stint. Profit averaged 3.3 and scored a career-high 11 points against the Wolfpack. When Stokes had to leave the State game briefly with less than four minutes left because of leg cramps, Profit got some of his most critical minutes of the season.
Williams said he'll try to effect matchups today that will find Profit, a 6-foot-6 swing man, posting up against 5-7 Terrell McIntyre of Clemson (15-8, 5-8).
What Williams wants from Simpkins is shooting -- pure and simple.
"He's been one of our best three-point shooters the last couple of years," Williams said. "We need that. The other thing we need from Duane is his free-throw shooting at the end of the game. He's one of the tops in the country. It hurts us when we don't have him to go to the line."
How long will Williams go with Simpkins if he struggles?
"We've got to win the game," he said. "We'll do whatever it takes to win the game. That's never been a problem for me. The team comes before any individual situation."
The re-emergence of Elliott the past two games (28 points in 28 minutes) gives Maryland an alternative if Ekezie falls into foul trouble. Elliott, like Mario Lucas, can play power forward or center.
"You get Rodney in the game because he's a hot shooter right now," Williams said. "It might cost somebody a couple of minutes' playing time. [But] that's what we've been waiting for. Now we don't have to worry as much about foul trouble if Obinna gets two quick fouls. We can play Rodney, Mario and Keith [Booth] inside."