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Any talk of Francis' returning for next season is premature; Despite recent comments, junior may still turn pro; Terps/ACC notebook


COLLEGE PARK -- At the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in 1996, Stephon Marbury said he looked forward to his sophomore season at Georgia Tech. Closer to home, Joe Smith spent the previous season downplaying speculation that he would limit his Maryland career to two seasons.

Consider those cautionary tales as you dream of Steve Francis sticking around for a second season with the Terps.

Earlier this week, there was wide play for comments Francis made in an interview with a Baltimore TV station, in which the junior guard said he looked forward to captaining Maryland next season.

What else did you expect the 20-year-old to say?

The fact remains that Francis has said that if he looked into the NBA after his sophomore year at Allegany College, he'll do so again at the end of this season. Talents of his magnitude who can't improve their draft stock rarely stay in college, and several NBA general managers have mentioned him as a possible No. 1 choice.

Coach Gary Williams recognizes that this season might be all he gets from Francis, and the Terps are recruiting with that scenario in mind.

"We don't talk about it all," Williams said. "I know he hasn't told a TV station that [he's returning]. I think there's a lot of speculation with any player in his situation, especially in this area. This is the home of all the agents in the world. It's not a decision to be made right now. We want to make sure everyone keeps their head where it belongs."

Save for Terence Morris, all of the Terps wavered with their approach in Tuesday's sloppy win over Georgia Tech. Francis was benched when his open-court acrobatics went sour, but he was also bothered again by the emphasis an opponent placed on stopping him. He was 4-for-13 from the field and didn't hit a single jump shot.

"Everyone says he's one of the top guards in the country, with a chance to go to the NBA, " said T. J. Vines, a 5-foot-10 reserve who helped slow Francis. "I didn't want to get embarrassed by him. I wanted to see how good he was."

That would be very good, as long as Francis thinks about this season and not the next one, whether it's in the NBA or at Maryland.

Toothless Tigers

Maryland can move to 18-2 for the first time in its history at Clemson on Sunday. None of the Terps has ever won there, but the Tigers are in their worst slump since 1995.

It was no surprise that Clemson fell to Duke on Wednesday, but did anyone expect it to be its sixth loss in seven games? First-year coach Larry Shyatt had the nation's No. 14 team at New Year's, but it has become a season he'd like to forget. The Tigers were picked to finish fourth in the ACC, but they're stuck in eighth.

Defenses have focused on Terrell McIntyre, a four-year starter at the point, and forced others to shoot.

"Our one glaring weakness through the last few seasons has been perimeter shooting and free-throw shooting," Shyatt said. "Somebody is chasing McIntyre at all times, and a zone has supported that chase, more or less encouraging anybody else to shoot."

Starters Vince Whitt and Johnny Miller were suspended from the Duke game for violating team rules. They could be reinstated for Maryland but still not start, because freshmen Dustin Braddick and Will Solomon added some offense in their first college starts.

Solomon, who considered coming to Maryland, played 39 minutes in Clemson's first five ACC games, 36 against Duke. He had 19 points, better than Milller's high at the 2-guard spot this season.

The twin peaks of No. 2 Duke and No. 4 Maryland will mark the first time since 1986 that Clemson had to play consecutive games against top-five teams.

Perfect Duke

The Blue Devils are at No. 8 St. John's on Sunday and home against No. 10 North Carolina on Wednesday. Duke can become the first team to go 16-0 in the ACC and the first to go unbeaten since the Tar Heels in 1987.

Pub Date: 1/22/99

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