COLLEGE PARK -- There isn't a bull's eye on the chest of Maryland basketball this season.
The Terps no longer have Steve Francis, who lived up to the hype and was the second player chosen in the NBA draft. Coach Gary Williams also must replace two other draft selections and a three-year starter at the point, and Maryland, without a senior in the bunch, isn't a topic of national discussion like it was last October.
"I love that," said Juan Dixon, the sophomore guard out of Calvert Hall. "Last year teams came after us. This year we have to go after some other teams. We can go out this time and prove we belong in the Top 10. Last year we won a lot of games on pure talent. This year, we're going to have to go harder in order for us to win."
Even though expectations aren't as high as they were last season, an estimated crowd of 12,000 nonetheless came out for Midnight Madness late Friday night at Cole Field House.
"There are very few places who had over 12,000 people tonight," Williams said.
For most, it was their first look at the newcomers, and it was evident that Byron Mouton could have helped the Terps this season. The open-court game of the 6-foot-6 Mouton, a transfer from Tulane who will sit out according to NCAA regulations, is a good fit for Williams' system. He'll be a junior for the 2000-2001 season.
"I knew Byron Mouton was a good player, he didn't surprise us," Williams said. "In practice, you need [to face] a guy like that. He averaged 14 points a game in a pretty good league, Conference USA."
With Mouton restricted to mimicking opposing perimeter players at practice, Maryland has just nine scholarship players available. On Thursday, Williams alluded to the eight-man rotation he prefers, but LaRon Cephas would like to expand Williams' frontcourt options off the bench beyond junior Mike Mardesich and freshman Tahj Holden.
Cephas, a redshirt junior forward from Wilmington, Del., appeared in 21 games two years ago, but underwent knee surgery in May 1998 and saw only garbage time last season. There's a reason he showed an expanded shooting range when he did get in.
"Last summer , I wasn't able to do anything except walk," Cephas said. "There were restrictions when I came back, and I did nothing but shoot, that's all I could do. This past off-season was essential for me, because I had to work on some abilities that were lacking. This preseason is important, because I'll go through the same pain and sweat everyone else is going through."
Player introductions at Midnight Madness had each player finish with a dunk attempt, and Cephas's had the most inspired attempt. He bounced the ball off the floor, then did a Brandi Chastain, pulling off his jersey. Cephas missed the dunk, but got plenty of style points.
Walk-on Matt Hahn, meanwhile, got an assist from Danny Miller, who lifted him up and above the rim.
The Terps' first full workout was at 9 a.m. yesterday morning. Joining the Midnight Madness crowd was Laron Profit, a three-year starter for the Terps who's trying to make the Washington Wizards. He brought along their No. 1 choice, Richard Hamilton. Rodney Elliott, the Terps' leader two years ago, was also in attendance. Cut by the Los Angeles Clippers last week, the Dunbar High grad said he'll either play for the Baltimore BayRunners in the new IBL; go to the team in LaCrosse, Wis., which has his CBA rights; or go back overseas. He spent last season in Belgium. Maryland's first exhibition game is Nov. 3, against the Australian All-Stars.
Pub Date: 10/17/99