COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- Practice for the Maryland men's basketball team doesn't officially begin until 10 tonight, but the campaign to return to the NCAA tournament after a two-year hiatus began yesterday.
The verbal campaign, that is.
"There's a lot of lobbying going on out there right now for the NCAA tournament that wasn't there before and we have to be part of that," Maryland coach Gary Williams said at his first preseason gathering with the media at Comcast Center. "We can't rest on the fact that the ACC has won more NCAA tournament games in the last 20 years than anyone else or that we have won more national championships than anyone else. It's 2006 and this is the way it is.
"If you have to lobby, you have to lobby. So I'm lobbying. It starts today."
Whether the Terps will return to the NCAA tournament will depend on the immediate success of a talented but unproven freshmen class, and whether the team can dramatically improve its defensive efforts from a year ago.
Of the four incoming freshmen, expectations are highest for heralded guards Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez, especially since point guard was a glaring weakness for the Terps last year.
After the unexpected departure of John Gilchrist to turn pro, and the loss of Chris McCray to academic ineligibility, D.J. Strawberry was forced into the position despite being a natural forward.
"He was the best we had there last year and we won 19 games with him playing at point," Williams said. "This year he'll be able to go back to where he can be more natural as a player, which will really help him."
Williams said he hasn't finalized his starting lineup yet, but he has considered playing two point guards and toyed with the idea of using three- and even four-guard lineups.
As to whether this recruiting class is the answer to back-to-back appearances in the National Invitation Tournament?
"They have to be given the opportunity to show what they can do," Williams said. "That's what you have to find out about any freshman - do they make the team better when they're out there? A guy will make a great shot or whatever, but how well does the team play? At that point guard position that's really the key."
Also among the newcomers are freshmen forwards Landon Milbourne (Oak Hill Academy/Mouth of Wilson, Va.) and Jerome Burney (Westlake High/Atlanta). Junior college transfer Bambale Osby, an intimidating 6-foot-8, 250-pound forward from Richmond, Va., is expected to help strengthen Maryland's inside game.
Vasquez and Hayes have legitimate chances to be starters, but Vasquez made it clear it's not the top priority.
"Our main goal is to change things here to try to make people see Maryland in a different way," he said. "We're coming with a different attitude. All four freshmen, we have practice at 6:30, we're here at 4:30, two hours before, working on our games. We're trying to send to the upperclassmen a message: Let's work hard, let's be together and make our season successful."
Note -- Williams said Burney has a fracture in the back of his foot and is likely to be out for three firstname.lastname@example.org
Schedule of events for Maryland basketball Midnight Madness tonight at Comcast Center in College Park:
Time Activity 8 Johnny Holliday introduction 8:05 Alumni introduction 8:15 Alumni game (first half) 8:25 Halftime contest 8:30 Alumni game (second half) 8:45 Dance, spirit squad, cheer, gymkana performances 9:20 Slam dunk contest 9:35 Women's team/coach video, introduction 9:52 Coach Brenda Frese comments 9:54 Women's team scrimmage 10:03 Men's team/coaches videos, introductions 10:19 Coach Gary Williams comments 10:20 Men's team scrimmage 10:30 Indoor fireworks
First practices of the 2006-07 basketball season for area Division I programs:
Coppin State -- Doors open at 8:30 tonight (after the team's first practice); includes performances by various dance groups and introduction of Coppin athletes. Ends at 11:15.
Loyola -- Practice tonight, but no event.
Maryland -- Midnight Madness, tonight, 8 to 10:30.
UMES -- Meet-and-greet event starting tonight at 6:30 and featuring giveaways; women practice at 9, men practice at 10; game follows among faculty, staff and alumni.
Morgan State -- Doors open tonight at 9:30; event starts at 10 featuring raffles and performances by the dance team. Teams introduced at 11.
Mount St. Mary's -- No event. First practice early tomorrow.
Navy -- No event. Brief walk-through tonight; first practice tomorrow.
Towson -- No event. Team has short walk-through tonight.
UMBC -- Halloween-themed event tonight, 10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., featuring giveaways and dodgeball; $100 award for best costume