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It's last call at Comcast for Terps' brightest star

COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- The numbers suggest that when the horn sounds at Comcast Center at the end of tonight's NCAA women's tournament second-round game between Maryland and Nebraska, bringing down the curtain on the home career of Crystal Langhorne, she will leave probably the greatest set of achievements of any woman to have worn a Terps uniform.

Langhorne tops the Maryland career scoring and rebounding lists, as well as those for field goals made, field-goal percentage, free throws attempted and games started. She is the program's only two-time All-America selection and the only Terps player to be named the Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year (2004-05) and the ACC Player of the Year (this season). The 6-foot-2 senior forward is a two-time Academic All-American, and she is the most visible face attached to Maryland's national championship two years ago.

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But Langhorne would very much prefer her legacy at Maryland be attached not so much to what she has done as to who she is - a daughter of immigrants who had to persuade her traditional parents to let her play basketball, an accomplished player who is as at home in the classroom as she is on the court.

"I want people to remember me as a nice person, not just as a basketball player," Langhorne said. "A lot of people are good basketball players, but I think I'm a pretty nice person, so I want people to remember me that way."

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The people around Langhorne on a daily basis, her coaches and teammates, seem amused, but not necessarily surprised, that a player with her talents would want to be identified with warm personal touches as opposed to cold, hard numbers of success.

"She's OK. She's all right, I guess," junior forward Marissa Coleman said, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. "That would be her legacy. She's a great teammate, a great friend and she's good to the fans. She'll definitely be remembered as a great person and an OK basketball player. Just an OK basketball player."

Of course, Langhorne the player has never been just OK. She was a first-team All-American in her senior year at Willingboro (N.J.) High School and a two-time New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year, despite starting to play the game seriously only in eighth grade. And that was mostly to have something in common with her older brothers, Cryhten Jr., who played collegiately at UMES, and Chris, who played at Texas State. Langhorne has an older sister, Camille, who played high school lacrosse.

Langhorne picked up the game quickly, so much so that a procession of the nation's top college coaches beat a path to her door. And while Tennessee's Pat Summitt sold the program's tradition and Connecticut's Geno Auriemma promised championships, in the end, Brenda Frese got Langhorne to come to Maryland by "stalking her," as Langhorne told the Comcast Center crowd on Senior Night last month.

Frese, who was ever present at Langhorne's games, went at her heavily at a time when her first Maryland team was going 10-18. Frese sold Langhorne on the concept that she, along with Laura Harper, who also played with Langhorne on the Philadelphia Belles AAU team, could join Shay Doron as the cornerstones of a new Maryland tradition.

And the approach had to be just right to work for Langhorne.

"Really, with Crystal, it was the personal touch, because she didn't e-mail, she didn't text message," Frese said. "And you had to get her on the phone. Our relationship, I think, was established through the personal mail and then once we could make personal contact on the phone and as many times as I was out to see her play.

"It was all the little things you do to show her you care about her. I love the fact that our beliefs and values kind of line up."

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The deal that brought Langhorne to College Park was cinched when Frese was invited to the house for one of her father's famous rib dinners. Not everyone, it seems, gets to sample Cryhten Langhorne Sr.'s ribs, and the fact that Frese got to sit at the table where neither Summitt nor Auriemma did was a big deal to Crystal Langhorne.

"I guess that I liked her," Langhorne said. "If I was going to have my parents cook for her, then I guess it was a sign."

Apparently, Langhorne's biggest obstacle to basketball stardom was getting her parents on board. The Langhornes, who immigrated to the United States from the South American nation of Guyana in 1966, are members of the Church of the Brethren, an offshoot of the Baptist faith. They were reluctant to let Crystal play Amateur Athletic Union basketball because many games were on Sundays, but at the urging of her brothers and coaches, her parents relented.

"Crystal was saying, 'Mom, we're equal. You're treating the boys different from the girls,'" said Juel Langhorne, a pharmacy technician. "And I think we were trying to protect her, too, because she's a girl. The boys were allowed a little more freedom. We're old-fashioned."

Juel Langhorne said she and her husband, who commutes 90 minutes each day to New York, where he is a manager with the city's transit authority, were also concerned about how basketball would affect their daughter's schoolwork, which, in hindsight, should never have been an issue. From the time she was 4 and would cry after her mother dropped the boys off at school because she couldn't go with them, the youngest Langhorne has loved the classroom.

Two days after she joined Vicky Bullett as the only players in Maryland history to be selected Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, Langhorne - who carries a 3.43 grade point average as a communications major - was named the league's Scholar-Athlete of the Year for women's basketball. She has been named to the Dean's List three times.

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But Langhorne does have a goofy side to her, as witnessed Sunday, when, after Coleman blocked a jumper from Coppin State's Rashida Suber in the Terps' 80-66, first-round win, Langhorne wagged a finger in her face, a la Houston Rockets center Dikembe Mutombo.

And the Cornhuskers' front line will probably take note of Langhorne's spins and jump hooks and skills on the offensive glass. But what Crystal Langhorne hopes they appreciate is how nice she is to them as she's scoring on them.

"That's just Crystal," Harper said with a laugh. "That's just how she talks and how she is. She wants to be the person who doesn't bring drama. She doesn't start stuff. In four years, she has not really been in trouble. She hasn't gotten into any arguments. That's just her personality."

Call her the new Queen of Nice.

milton.kent@baltsun.com



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