COLLEGE PARK -- Well, it was billed as an exhibition.
Steve Francis waited until the eighth minute to make his debut with the Maryland basketball team last night, and he needed just two possessions to display to a crowd of 12,486 exactly what the fuss was about over a junior-college transfer from Takoma Park.
A practice game against the Aussie All-Stars was proceeding sleepily until Francis, in fresh shoes, slipped with the ball and nearly fell to one knee. As two defenders jumped him near the top of the key, Francis escaped from the trap with a between-the-legs dribble and fed Laron Profit for an exhilarating dunk.
The sequence helped define Maryland's 90-59 win in the first of its two exhibition games. The Terps open the season for real Nov. 14 against Western Carolina.
The Associated Press preseason Top 25 will be released today, and the Terps expect to have their highest preseason ranking since 1980-81, when they opened at No. 4.
Maryland has five key players back from a Sweet 16 team, and it must mix in three freshmen and Francis, a junior-college All-American for Allegany last season.
Coach Gary Williams started Juan Dixon, a redshirt freshman out of Calvert Hall who had scored 21 in the Terps' intrasquad scrimmage, over Francis.
Williams said he doesn't have a starting lineup, but as expected, the rest of the first five consisted of Terrell Stokes at the point, Profit on the wing, forward Terence Morris and center Obinna Ekezie.
"With all of the pressure that's been put on Steve [Francis], he's doing well," Profit said. "You've got to realize we've got a lot of players who can contribute. From 1 through 10 or 11, the level of play isn't going to go down."
Dixon, a two-time All-Metro, got 24 minutes. And Francis and fellow reserves Lonny Baxter, Mike Mardesich, Danny Miller and Brian Watkins also all received substantial time as Williams began the task of defining a rotation that he hopes will challenge preseason favorite Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"We can't say we have great depth until we prove it," Williams said. "I have to find out how good the guys are that I'm bringing in."
Some constants remain from last season. Profit, a first-team preseason ACC all-star, led Maryland with six assists and 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting. Ekezie had 15 points, and 10 of his 14 rebounds came in the first half. Morris, the sophomore forward from Frederick's Thomas Johnson High, had 16 points.
Dixon added 10 points and a nice floor game. Francis' first stint came at the point, and he was paired with Stokes. His 19 minutes included some erratic play as he had four assists and as many turnovers.
"This was my first college game and there were a lot of jitters when I first came out," Francis said. "Coach sat me down, and that calmed me down."
The Terps were waiting to break out from a 13-9 lead when Francis fed Profit. The five starters were back on the floor four minutes later and built the spread to 12.
Francis and Dixon were the backcourt for the final minutes of the half, which ended with a Dixon follow, "among the trees" as he called it, for a 44-28 halftime bulge.
The lead was never fewer than 11 in the second half.
One of the NCAA's points of emphasis this season is hand-checking, and Morris was called for two fouls in the first 91 seconds.
The Terps didn't find a rhythm until their traps began to click, but that happens in February, too.
The Aussies played the night before, losing, 96-79, at Virginia.
NOTES: Tahj Holden, the highly sought, 6-foot-9 forward from Little Silver, N.J., is keeping the Terps waiting. His AAU coach said that Holden won't choose among Clemson, Maryland and Syracuse until tomorrow at the earliest. Maryland will conduct a scrimmage at Cole Field House Saturday (1 p.m.). It's free and open to the public. The Terps are scheduled to practice at Ritchie Coliseum today because Cole will be the venue for a Bob Dylan-Joni Mitchell concert tonight. Williams said he was more of a Four Tops fan.
AUSSIE ALL-STARS -- Houle 1-6 2-2 4, Acres 0-4 0-0 0, Christiansen 3-7 3-6 9, Mitchelhill 0-3 0-0 0, Young 7-21 4-4 23, Duggan 0-1 0-0 0, Anderson 2-5 0-0 6, Grabau 2-6 0-0 4, Boundy 0-1 0-0 0, Alexander 0-1 0-0 0, Boles 3-7 0-0 7, Owens 2-7 1-6 6. Totals 20-69 10-18 59.
MARYLAND -- Profit 7-11 3-4 17, Morris 6-12 4-6 16, Ekezie 7-13 1-3 15, Dixon 4-9 2-2 10, Stokes 1-3 0-0 3, Miller 2-4 2-2 7, Hahn 0-0 0-0 0, Francis 2-4 4-6 9, Fields 1-1 1-2 2, Mardesich 0-2 1-2 1, Baxter 2-5 2-2 6, Watkins 1-2 2-2 4. Totals 33-66 21-29 90.
Halftime--Maryland, 44-28. 3-point goals--Australia 9-33 (Young 5-16, Anderson 2-3, Boles 1-3, Owens 1-2, Grabau 0-3, Mitchelhill 0-3, Houle 0-2, Acres 0-1), Maryland 3-14 (Stokes 1-3, Miller 1-3, Francis 1-1, Profit 0-3, Dixon 0-2, Morris 0-1, Ekezie 0-1). Fouled out--Alexander. Rebounds--Australia 42 (Acres 8), Maryland 48 (Ekezie 14). Assists--Australia 13 (Young 5), Maryland 22 (Profit 6). Total fouls--Australia 22, Maryland 20. A--12,486.
Pub Date: 11/05/98