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Maryland basketball coach Mark Turgeon, Terps visit Baltimore hospital

"Going in there and making a visit like this and seeing people who are going through some hard things in their lives," said Terps senior Rasheed Sulaimon, "just seeing their positive energy and positive vibes, it creates a new life for you." (Kevin Richardson)

William "Bud" Willinghan's room at MedStar Harbor Hospital was suddenly filled with Terps on Tuesday, and the 89-year-old World War II veteran was suddenly feeling a little better.

Willinghan, a retired printer from Baltimore, has followed the Maryland men's basketball team since "the days of [Tom] McMillen and [Len] Elmore," said his son, Michael, the hospital's director of respiratory care services.

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Willinghan had a question for Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, who led a contingent of coaches, players, support staff and athletic department personnel — including sports information director Zack Bolno as Terps mascot Testudo — from College Park.

"You're going to win it this year?" Willinghan asked Turgeon, now in his fifth season at Maryland.

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"We're going to try," said Turgeon, whose No. 3 Terps will open their much-anticipated 2015-16 season Friday against Mount St. Mary's at Xfinity Center. "We've got to get it done this year for you."

While the elder Willinghan wasn't that familiar with the two current players in attendance, Duke transfer Rasheed Sulaimon and fellow senior Varun Ram, he certainly knew all about a former Maryland player who was also in his room.

"Hey dad, look at who's behind the turtle," Michael Willinghan said to his father.

"You were an incredible player," Bud Willinghan told fellow Baltimorean Juan Dixon, the school's all-time leading scorer and now special assistant to Turgeon. "I used to see a lot of you at one time."

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Joked Dixon: "That was a long time ago, a long time ago. We have a special ballclub this year."

Said Sulaimon: "I've learned a lot from him. Hopefully we can take some of his magic and replicate it this year."

Willinghan was the oldest patient the Maryland party met with Tuesday. Aaron Davis was the youngest.

The 9-year-old from Baltimore also wasn't sure who Sulaimon and Ram were, but his eyes lit up when they came into his room where he was recovering from hand surgery. They posed for pictures holding up their index fingers.

"That's his football number, too," Dineica Davis, Aaron's mother, told the Maryland players.

"Keep your head up, and you'll be out of here in no time," Sulaimon told the youngster. "And when you get back out, I'm going to try to come and watch you play."

The 90-minute visit, which also included talking to patients undergoing chemotherapy, was in conjunction with Maryland's first game in Baltimore during Turgeon's five seasons. The Terps will meet Princeton at Royal Farms Arena on Dec. 19.

"More than anything, it's a morale booster," hospital president Dennis Pullin said of Tuesday's visit. "When you get patients here that are at their worst, any positive energy we can bring in, particularly with notable folks, it just does wonders for the patients and as staff included."

Said Sulaimon, who transferred to Maryland for his senior year after graduating from Duke over the summer: "It just humbles you, life is bigger than basketball. Going in there and making a visit like this and seeing people who are going through some hard things in their lives and just seeing their positive energy and positive vibes, it creates a new life for you. As much as we're sharing with you, they're sharing with us. It makes you think more about life."

Ram, whose parents and sisters are doctors, said a visit like Tuesday's puts everything in perspective.

"Just to see the smiles we put on people's faces and the smiles they put on our faces, you can't put it into words. It's great," he said.

Turgeon said that he and his players need to make more of these kinds of visits.

"There are so many places in our area that we can be helpful to," Turgeon said. "It's part of the process that we're going through. It's a good start for us."

The most interesting exchange took place between Sulaimon and Michael Willinghan, who is certainly up on his Maryland basketball history to note the presence of a former Duke player in his father's room.

"How does it feel coming over to the dark side?" the younger Willinghan asked.

Sulaimon laughed.

"I don't think it's the dark side at all," he said. "I think I look better in red, black and gold."

Added Turgeon, "I think he's coming over to the light side."

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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