COLLEGE PARK -- Terence Morris will be the center of attention at Maryland this season, but the Terps could also be well fortified in the pivot itself.
Morris, the 6-foot-10 junior forward from Frederick, will be among the nation's premier players. He's the lone holdover from the starting lineup who worked most of a 28-6 season, and speculation sees freshman Steve Blake settling in at the point and sophomores Juan Dixon and Danny Miller stepping up at the two (shooting guard) and three (small forward) spots.
It's assumed that Lonny Baxter will return to the starting center position he anchored the last 10 games of 1998-99, but that's not the way Mike Mardesich sees it.
"I think it's my spot," Mardesich said. "I would be surprised if I wasn't starting. I'm too valuable not to be in there. That's the way I have to make the coaches start thinking. That's the way I have to approach it."
Morris and Mardesich were a tandem off the bench as freshmen in 1997-98, but while the former grew into an all-Atlantic Coast Conference choice last year, Mardesich slumped horribly. He made just 35 percent of his shots, inexcusable for a 7-footer, and his minutes also diminished.
Mardesich admitted his confidence was shot when Baxter got the nod to replace Obinna Ekezie, whose college career was ended by a torn Achilles' tendon. If Mardesich can reassert himself, it would open up some intriguing possibilities, in the form of a big lineup that would alleviate the pressure on a young, thin backcourt.
A lineup with Mardesich at center and Baxter at power forward interests Morris.
Some time on the wing, at the three spot, would allow him to display his improved ball-handling skills and add to the Terps' inside presence.
"Mike and Lonny on the floor at the same time, that would be interesting," Morris said. "I played four [power forward] all last season, but I've played three before. I've been working on facing the basket, instead of playing with my back to it."
Baxter, meanwhile, wants to better sustain his play, and his buff body will come as a shock to some who attend Midnight Madness at Cole Field House tonight. Baxter said he's 260 pounds, actually a few more than last season, but a sizable midsection has become upper-body muscle.
"I needed to do something, so that I could play more minutes, and I wouldn't pick up so many 'tired' fouls," said Baxter, who will give up several inches to North Carolina's Brendan Haywood and Georgia Tech's Alvin Jones, the top big men in the ACC.
"If I can play four [power forward], that would be great," Baxter said. "My size would be an advantage. I'm getting to the basket quicker, and my post moves have gotten quicker. Four or five, it doesn't matter to me, as long as I'm in there."
Baxter was among the players at Media Day yesterday who praised Kurtis Shultz, a letterman from 1992 to '95 who's back as the strength coach. While Baxter had to improve his stamina, freshman guard Drew Nicholas, 6-3 and 155 pounds, must get stronger.
Nicholas' preseason development was halted when he broke a bone in his left (non-shooting) hand. He underwent surgery Sept. 22 --in which three screws were inserted -- and a cast wasn't removed until earlier this week.
"Yeah, it's a nice scar," said Nicholas, running a finger along the remains of a four-inch incision.
"I thought I was playing real well when I went down. I was playing better than I actually expected. I can't really dribble with my left hand right now, but I'll be ready to go all out in another week."
Nicholas had a fine senior season at Long Island (N.Y.) Lutheran, and he'll be the first guard off the bench.
Maryland opens Nov. 17 at home against San Francisco, in the first round of the 16-team Preseason NIT. That tournament's last two rounds are at Madison Square Garden. Midnight Madness will include several students challenging some of the Terps in a shooting contest. "That's some pressure on our guys," coach Gary Williams said. The third freshman is Tahj Holden, a 6-10 forward from Little Silver, N.J.