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After nearly two-year wait, Robert Carter Jr. suits up for Terps

Given the basketball dreams of countless weekend warriors, it's hard to fathom what Maryland forward Robert Carter Jr. envisions during his own REM sleep cycles every night.

Admittedly, the Georgia Tech transfer does hoop it up quite a bit.

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"I always dream about playing basketball, that's what I dream about at night," Carter said before practice Thursday.

Nearly 20 months after playing his last game for the Yellow Jackets as a sophomore in the 2014 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Carter will play his first game as a Terp Friday night when No. 3 Maryland hosts Division II Southern New Hampshire in a preseason contest at Xfinity Center.

In his wildest dreams, Carter couldn't imagine that the 17-15 team he was joining would go 28-7 last season. He couldn't have envisioned the Terps would finish second in their first foray into the Big Ten, make the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years and go into the 2015-16 season as one of the favorites to win a national championship.

"Nobody could predict that," Carter said. "I knew we had an opportunity to be a really good team and that's why I decided to come here, but 1-2-3 in the country, I never thought about that. I thought we had a chance to be good with some good players."

Carter is expected to be an even better player at Maryland than he was at Georgia Tech, where he averaged 11.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game as a sophomore. Carter was leading the ACC in rebounding at more than nine per game when he tore the meniscus in his knee right before the Yellow Jackets were scheduled to play the Terps that season.

After missing 10 games, Carter finished by scoring in double figures in eight of the last 10 games and getting the last two of the 10 double-doubles he had in his two seasons in Atlanta. Carter, who had a 19-point, 10-rebound game against the Terps as a freshman, also missed a double-double by either a point or a rebound in seven other games.

Unlike other transfers who were rusty after sitting out a year -- Evan Smotrycz was the most recent example at Maryland -- Carter believes that the 15 pounds he shed and the strength he gained under the guidance of director of basketball performance Kyle Tarp has made him a potentially more dominant player.

"I think I'm much better. I don't think I'm rusty. I didn't have time to get rusty," Carter said. "I played a lot, just not on TV. We compete every day. Sometimes it's harder than the games. I think I'll be ready to go."

The roster has undergone a major overhaul since Carter transferred, shortly after five players announced they were leaving Maryland. Among them was power forward Charles Mitchell, who is now at Georgia Tech. Carter is one of four new scholarship players on this year's team, along with fellow transfers Rasheed Sulaimon and Jaylen Brantley, and freshman center Diamond Stone.

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon has said since the start of practice that Carter and senior forward Jake Layman have emerged as the team's leaders. As much as Turgeon expected Carter to assume a leadership role, the level the 6-foot-9, 238-pound forward has taken it to has been "a pleasant surprise."

Said Carter, "I'm just trying to bring everybody together, to keep everybody coming together. Like I tell them every day, I love each and every one of them. We're all brothers. We're just trying to come together on the court and come together and win some great games."

Though Carter has been overshadowed by a number of his teammates -- most often sophomore point guard Melo Trimble, the Big Ten's preseason Player of the Year, and by Stone, who was the second-rated high school center in the country last season -- the country boy from Thomasville, Ga., who grew up idolizing local star Charlie Ward is ready for the spotlight.

"I'm very excited, I've been looking forward to this for a long time," he said.

Dreamed about it, too.

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