COLLEGE PARK - The fun came last night, when the Maryland Terrapins looked and acted like any other big-time college basketball team opening its season amid so much pomp and promise.
The games won't start for another month.
The reality begins today, when the Terps start practicing for a season in which most predictions range between lousy and just plain long. One thing is for sure: The Terps will go with a smaller lineup than they've had in a while.
"I think we can be a pretty quick team this year, so you want to play at a quick level," Maryland coach Gary Williams said after Maryland Madness festivities for the men's and women's teams ended at Comcast Center. "You can't do that unless you're in great shape."
With a boisterous crowd enjoying everything from a Gary Williams look-alike contest to assistant coach Keith "Booooooooooth" getting back onto the court for the alumni game, the Terps were not thinking about what most have been saying.
Certainly not Williams himself.
"It's been a great 20 years for me, personally," the 63-year-old coach told the fans after his team was introduced. "But the only thing that matters right now - Oct. 17 - is this coming season."
Keeping with his recent tradition of grand entrances, Williams entered the area in a 17,000-pound Lenco Bearcat Armored vehicle with the Under Armour insignia on the side.
"I'd like to thank Under Armour for my new car," Williams joked.
Unveiling their new uniforms made by the Baltimore-based sports apparel company, the Terps certainly showed they will have to rely on their collective speed and scrappiness rather than the size and muscle inside.
If anything, last night's alumni game underscored the team's lack of frontcourt depth - and talent.
Among those who returned to the court were Derrick and Cedric Lewis, two of the most prolific shot-blockers in school history; Tony Massenburg; and Booth, who will be inducted into the school's Hall of Fame on Friday.
"This team is unlike any Gary Williams team I can remember," said former point guard Duane Simpkins, now a coach at St. Albans School in Washington. "Playing four guards in the ACC, we'll see how it's going to work."
Is there any advice Simpkins can give this season's team?
"They're going to have to be scrappy," Simpkins said.
Simpkins can remember the dire predictions going into his sophomore year back in 1993-94, after the Terps had the only losing season in Williams' tenure the year before.
"I think we were picked eighth [out of nine in the conference]," Simpkins said of a team that barely got into the NCAA tournament and then made it to the Sweet 16 by upsetting Massachusetts in the second round. "But nobody knew who Joe Smith [then a freshman] was."
Clearly, there aren't any such unknowns going into this season. But Johnny Rhodes, who played alongside Simpkins in the backcourt for four years, said the low expectations should not deter these Terps.
"It's an opportunity," said Rhodes, who is back in school finishing his degree. "Anytime you have an opportunity, you have to make the most of it. They may lack depth, so everyone has to do a little more."
Guard Greivis Vasquez said he knows what many have said about this season.
"We're going to prove some people wrong," he said last night. "We're going to start working at 7:30 [this] morning."