COLLEGE PARK -- Nick Gicale and Dominic Labitzky were lounging on their blankets and air mattresses in Cole Field House yesterday, cookies in hand, secure in the knowledge that they were first in the line that was forming behind them.
Gicale and Labitzky soon would have plenty of company. The reason for the student excitement is the Maryland basketball team's 10-0 start -- one shy of the school record -- and No. 2 national ranking, not to mention the prospect of meeting Atlantic Coast Conference rival and No. 3 Duke in a showdown.
L Last year, the Blue Devils routed the Terps at Cole, 104-72.
The university's ticket office had announced the field house doors would open to 2,000 students (each allowed to pick up two tickets with another student's ID in hand) to begin lining up for Duke tickets at 5: 30 p.m. yesterday. Other students began arriving at 6 a.m. yesterday. With hundreds already in line by 3: 30, officials had opened the doors and were checking them in. By 7: 45 p.m., the doors were closed with 2,000 inside making their beds for the night.
"We wanted to be here to support our team," said Labitzky, a freshman from Gaithersburg, when asked why he and Gicale had arrived nearly a day early. "We thought there'd be hundreds of kids here. I guess we're Maryland's top basketball fans -- one and two."
They were definitely the most zealous.
"It's pretty evident, Maryland is headed for No. 1," said Gicale of Montgomery Village, who added that he and Labitzky had cut all their classes yesterday. "Luckily, exams don't start until next week."
Students came carrying blankets, sleeping bags, air mattresses and pillows. They came with radios, cellular phones, portable televisions and schoolbooks. P.J. Singh, a freshman from Hunt Valley, planned to work on an archaeology report. Sophomore Kaveh Shakeri, a biochemistry major, hoped to begin studying for three exams that scheduled Monday.
They carried backpacks and shopping bags, sodas, potato chips and Scooby Snacks. Kate Bednarz, a freshman from Connecticut majoring in nutrition, arrived with six bottles of water and bagels.
"I've never slept out for anything," said Katherine Geiger, a senior from Gaithersburg, who arrived at 6: 30 a.m. "I've never even seen a college basketball game."
That remark brought loud whoops from others in line.
"Hey, I transferred in from Penn State," she said. "At Penn State, we do football."
When Terps coach Gary Williams showed up with pizzas, everyone cheered wildly.
"They were hungry," Williams said. "They just wanted to eat. It's really nice that they're here. It shows they're interested in the basketball team, and it's nice to have a team with players who make the students feel involved."
"I kind of expected that, for Duke, North Carolina, different games people have camped out there before," Terps center Obinna Ekezie said. "Now that we're No. 2, we should expect to see a little more camping. They expect that game to be a good one, and they're already talking about it. It's a big game, especially after the way we lost to them last year."
When Williams arrived at Maryland in 1989, he might have wondered if he'd ever see this kind of excitement being generated around his team. Maryland was three years into the sanctions handed out by the NCAA after the 1986 drug-related death of Len Bias.
Even yesterday, Bias was not far from the minds of students assembling at Cole.
"My freshman year was [former Maryland All-American] Joe Smith's sophomore year," said Tommy Bowen, 22, a senior criminal justice major. "We lined up like this then. But they're talking more about Lenny now. For a long time, no one ever mentioned the Lenny Bias thing and how hard Gary has worked to put us back on top.
"But now we're there, and people are talking about it. It stays in the mind, how all the excitement can be taken away overnight."
"There have been some schools that have made it through without a big incident," Williams said. "Duke has made it. North Carolina. Indiana. We haven't. The Bias thing was as tough a blow to a school as you could have.
"Now, it's good that things have turned around, that those kids are up there [on the Cole concourse]. You just hope it continues."
Pub Date: 12/10/98