For Terps fans, a warm welcome at Big Ten tournament

Maryland fans cheer as their team is introduced before their game against Indiana.
Maryland fans cheer as their team is introduced before their game against Indiana. (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

CHICAGO — Held in the country's third-largest city, one 10 times the size of Greensboro, N.C., the Big Ten Conference tournament has a much different feel and look than the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

That was quite noticeable to the Maryland fans who made the trip to United Center for Friday's quarterfinal game against Indiana, an eventual 75-69 win, particularly those who had regularly traveled to Greensboro Coliseum.


Sitting a few rows behind one of the baskets, Larry Grabenstein and his three friends, who have gone to each of Maryland's conference tournaments since 2001, said they haven't been made to feel as if they're the enemy.

"Nobody hates us yet," said Grabenstein, a financial adviser and former Terrapin Club president who lives in Federal Hill.


That could change. The Terps have gone a preseason 10th-place pick and conference newcomer to regular-season runner-up, behind only Wisconsin.

One of those in Grabenstein's group, Chuck Weidenfeller of Rockville, said the role reversal could happen "by Sunday" if the Terps reach the final and face the Badgers, who have a large following here.

Maryland probably had one of the smaller representations of fans in Chicago, at least to start. According to an athletic department spokesman, 700 of the 1,000 single-ticket packages offered to each of the 14 Big Ten schools were purchased.

Dennis Moore, who moved from Annapolis to south of Wilmington, N.C., nearly two decades ago, said he "got tired of going to Greensboro [for the ACC tournament] and being the visiting team almost every time you played."

This was something of a homecoming for the last of Grabenstein's foursome. Brad Helms is a native Chicagoan but became a Maryland fan during the 15 years he spent living in Silver Spring.

When he heard the Terps were headed to the Big Ten, and that their first Big Ten tournament would be in Chicago, Helms said he was "excited about coming here, instead of Greensboro."

Yet Helms acknolwedged that something was missing.

"I'm a Miami [graduate]. My son is a Georgia Tech [graduate]. I missed the rivalry teams in the ACC," Helms said.

Keith Adams never made it to the ACC tournament during his three-plus decades of rooting for the Terps. But he booked a trip to Chicago for Maryland's Big Ten tournament debut.

"I was trying to get to last year's tournament but I wasn't able to do it," said Adams, who lives in Owings, in Calvert County. "This being their first year in the Big Ten, I wanted to see it and experience it."

Even if Maryland had lost, Adams said he planned to stick around for the weekend. "Experience the whole thing," Adams said.

Jeff Jackel, a 1989 Maryland graduate who moved here from New Jersey in 2011, said he was "ecstatic" when he heard the Terps were joining the Big Ten and coming to his adopted hometown. Jackel helped organize events to watch Maryland games at local bars during the season.


"We've been waiting for it since they announced they were joining the conference," Jackel said.

On Friday, Jackel met up with Terps fans at the city's legendary Billy Goat Tavern before coming over to United Center to watch the game against the Hoosiers. Jackel said he was not surprised to hear the reaction from other fans in their first trip to the Big Ten tournament.

Jackel, who went to two ACC tournaments, said the Big Ten tournament "is much more of a friendlier atmosphere between the fans of the schools" and called it "very different than the antagonistic culture of what we encountered" in North Carolina.

That there are more hotel rooms and restaurants — not to mentions bars that stay open later than they do in Greensboro — also has helped the experience, Grabenstein said.

"The restaurant selection is 100 times [better]. People in the concourse come up to you and say hello, that type of thing. Obviously, the Chicago experience is different," Grabenstein said. "It's just that it's the Midwest. It's just friendlier."

If Maryland felt a like a newcomer at its first Big Ten tournament, so did former Duke and NBA star Grant Hill.

Now working for CBS Sports as an analyst, Hill looked around United Center and considered the Terps' new home.

"The whole idea of Maryland not being in the ACC is odd to me," Hill said. "I'm used to watching them in North Carolina, Atlanta, wherever the tournament was. This is the world we're in now, and they've come in the Big Ten and just played tremendous basketball."

Hill smiled.

"I like to say they've represented the ACC well," he said.


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