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Connections abound as Division III St. Mary's faces Maryland at Xfinity Center

Even though the Division III St. Mary's College of Maryland men's basketball team goes into Thursday's game in College Park having never played at Division I Maryland, its coach and two of its starters are more than familiar with a few of their counterparts, as well as with Xfinity Center and Cole Field House.

Chris Harney, who played at St. Mary's and has coached the Seahawks for 12 years, said he once had Maryland assistant Cliff Warren as a summer basketball counselor when Warren played at Mount St. Mary's.

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"He taught me how to shoot free throws at the Morgan Wootten camp," Harney recalled.

Years later, Harney coached Maryland guards Melo Trimble and Anthony Cowan in the same camp when they were 11 and 12 years old.

Delaszo Smith, St. Mary's senior guard who played at Annapolis High, was often in the same Amateur Athletic Union tournaments and middle school leagues in Prince George's County as Trimble.

"He was basically the same kind of player he is today, basically driving it to the rack and being a solid point guard. Doesn't make a lot of mistakes," Smith said.

Smith had one of his biggest thrills playing basketball at the expense of Trimble's team in a playoff game.

"Not to sound like I'm blowing my hat off, but one time when we were in the seventh grade, I hit a game-winner at Trinity College in Washington," Smith said.

Tre Mouton, a 22-year-old freshman guard from Waldorf who played high school ball at North Point, joined the team this year after Harney found him working at a local Verizon store. Mouton came to Maryland games on a regular basis when his uncle, Byron Mouton, played for the Terps after transferring from Tulane. The younger Mouton attended the NCAA title game in Atlanta in 2002.

"I actually played there [at Xfinity Center] in high school, in the state championship as a junior, but playing against Maryland is a completely different experience," Mouton said. "I never thought I'd have the opportunity to do that. It's going to be exciting. I can't wait. My last organized game [before St. Mary's], we lost in the semis at the buzzer my senior year to Eleanor Roosevelt. "

Recalling how he was recruited by Harney, Mouton said, "Random phone call. I was at work and it was Coach Harney."

Harney was looking to upgrade his roster, not his cell phone plan.

"He told me that the situation would be good for me, and everything just happened to work out," Mouton said.

Harney, who set up the game between his perennially successful Division III program and the Terps through two other friends on Turgeon's staff — assistant coach Bino Ranson and director of basketball operations Nima Omidvar — said he doesn't have any delusions going into Thursday's game.

"As far as Thursday goes, we want to win the game, but we're trying just to look at what we're doing and how we can do it better," said Harney, whose Seahawks opened with a 95-66 win over Penn State-Altoona on Tuesday. "We're going to approach it like every other game, but we're also self-aware to realize we're dealing with future NBA players."

That was the case five years ago, when St. Mary's went up to New York to play St. John's, which at the time featured future NBA player Moe Harkless. The Seahawks led by six with about nine minutes to go before falling, 77-70.

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"It was unusual circumstances," Harney recalled. "[Steve] Lavin was about to undergo treatment for prostate cancer that week. We got lucky. They played zone the whole game and we hit a bunch of 3s. We gave them a game. They had some big dudes."

Harney joked that most Terps fans must've thought "it was a typo or St. Mary's of California" when they saw the game on Maryland's schedule. Though the game doesn't count against Maryland's RPI — and is officially an exhibition for St. Mary's — there are some reasons why the game is being played.

According to a contract for the game obtained by The Baltimore Sun through the Maryland Public Information Act, St. Mary's is receiving a $20,000 guarantee.

"In some ways, they make money. They have to pay D-IIs and lower D-Is more than they pay us," Harney said. "It's a windfall. It's more than our entire budget.

"It's a perfect storm of things — it's relationships and networking, that's part of it. I have a relationship with most of the staff members of the team. … I coached at Bel Air High School and played in men's leagues all over Baltimore, and that's where I got to know Bino. He was coming off being at St. Frances at the time."

Harney said that after he attended Turgeon's camp for high school teams last summer, the game between the schools took shape.

"It was me being at the team camp on the morning of the championship game, but I was there to recruit," Harney said. "It was the timing then, and then he asking me to talk to his son, Will, about the differences between Division I and III. It was [the elder Turgeon] putting a face to the same and saying, 'Yeah, we'll do that game.' That's how it happened. Nima was really the guy that got the game for me."

Harney, who is now recruiting the younger Turgeon, said there will be plenty of St. Mary's fans at Xfinity Center on Thursday. Just as Maryland fans did at Verizon Center against Georgetown in the team's 76-75 win Tuesday night, Seahawks fans will try to drown out the home crowd.

"You mark my words — you are going to be surprised at how many of our fans will be there," Harney said. "We're really growing a huge fan base for Maryland in Southern Maryland. They're basically junkies down here. We have an insane Division III basketball environment; it's a mini-version of what Maryland has."

Turgeon held a summer camp at St. Mary's last summer. Harney expects most of the 1,300 fans that show up for games at the "Hawk Dome" to be at Xfinity Center.

"This place is going to be a ghost town Thursday," Harney said.

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