COLLEGE PARK - Tahj Holden is eager to see how he and his fellow big men from the Maryland Terrapins fare in their first trial run. Drew Nicholas is glad to break up the monotony that marks a full month of grinding practices. Coach Gary Williams is especially interested to see how his young players fare under the glare of a game that means more than a typical exhibition opener.
Tonight before a national audience viewing the first televised game of the 2002-03 NCAA season, the defending men's basketball champions will mark their unofficial debut in the brand-new Comcast Center by welcoming a famous traveling basketball show that promises not to be a pushover.
The Harlem Globetrotters are coming to town, and this is not the version complete with trampolines and pratfalls and buckets of confetti. The Globetrotters' fall college tour roster is replete with serious competitors with the size and skills to match.
The Globetrotters have an all-time record of 163-68 against collegiate competition, and have lost only once in the past three years to a college team. This month, they beat Purdue by 19 points and handed St. John's a 25-point spanking.
"We're curious to see where we are with the season a little less than two weeks away. This is a great game. I'd rather play a team that has a chance to beat us," said Williams, referring to Maryland's regular-season opener against Miami (Ohio) on Nov. 24.
"If this was a regular-season game, I'm sure the Globetrotters would be favored, based on what they have done so far," he added. "I want us to be competitive. We're not going to be perfect. The [freshmen] will be nervous, which is good, because that means they care. We could have played Estonia and won by 50. You need to find out where you are as a team."
The Globetrotters figure to do their share of pushing and shoving, considering their age and the youthfulness of Maryland's roster. Besides returning five seniors, led by point guard Steve Blake - the most experienced of four projected senior starters - the Terps carry four freshmen and two sophomores.
The Globetrotters average 6 feet 10 in the frontcourt, where they feature former NBA players like 7-foot Olden Polynice, 37; 6-7 Cedric Ceballos, 33; and 6-7 guard/forward Todd Day, 32. Among the backcourt players is former St. John's guard Chudney Gray, who was part of the Red Storm team that embarrassed Maryland in the Sweet 16 round of the 2000 NCAA tournament.
"You don't normally see guys this big of this caliber in a game like this," said Holden, Maryland's senior power forward. "Win or lose, there are still things we have to work on. We're getting tired of beating up on each other. They are going to want to win as badly as we want to win. There's no doubt about that."
Williams will have his eyes trained extra hard on newcomers like junior forward Jamar Smith and freshmen like 6-8 forward Nik Caner-Medley, 6-8 forward Travis Garrison and 6-1 point guard John Gilchrist.
"You look at the basic stuff. Do you know how to cover a screen? Can you cover a clear-out situation?" Williams said. "When you're playing against 18- and 19-year-olds, that can be intimidating. This is legitimate basketball."
Said senior shooting guard Drew Nicholas: "I don't expect this to be anything but a great night. We're opening up something new. It's been a long month. Anytime you open up something new, you want to get off on the right foot."
NOTE: The early one-week signing period begins tomorrow for the incoming class of 2003, and the Terps are aiming to secure signatures from five prospects who have orally committed to Maryland. They are 6-9 forward Ekene Ibekwe of Carson (Calif.) High; 6-10 center Hassan Fofana, who is playing this year at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia; 6-4 guard D.J. Strawberry of Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif.; 6-5 guard Michael Jones of Thayer Academy in Braintree, Mass.; and 7-foot center Will Bowers of nearby Archbishop Spalding.
Opponent:Harlem Globetrotters (exhibition)
Site:Comcast Center, College Park
Inside:Arizona No. 1, Terps 13th in AP poll. [Page 6c]