It took a special brand of confidence for freshman guard Pe'Shon Howard to arrive at the Maryland men's basketball team's media day Thursday wearing a crisp white jersey bearing No. 21 — Greivis Vasquez's old number.
"I had [No. 21] in high school," said Howard, who is from Los Angeles and attended Virginia's Oak Hill Academy. "Greivis said he didn't mind. At first he said he wasn't sure. He had to see me and make sure I was tough enough to wear it."
If Howard seemed bold — and it certainly takes self-assurance to wear the number of Maryland's second-leading scorer of all time — he wasn't the only one.
Unlike last season, when media day was ruled by Vasquez (now with the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies) and fellow senior starters Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes, this year's session was largely about the six newcomers.
It's a group that seems confident and opportunistic — necessary qualities for a class that knows the Terps must replace the scoring of Vasquez, Milbourne and Hayes, who together averaged 43.6 points per game.
"We don't have any preconceived ideas in terms of the makeup of our first eight or nine players," coach Gary Williams said. "The challenge this year is how many of the six [newcomers] can step in and be part of the rotation"
Maryland returns starters Jordan Williams, a sophomore power forward, and Sean Mosley (St. Frances), a junior guard. No other starting spot seems assured, although coaches will certainly lean on the experience of the three seniors: guard Adrian Bowie, guard-forward Cliff Tucker and forward Dino Gregory (Mount St. Joseph).
The availability of playing time was a lure to newcomers such as Terrell Stoglin, a 6-foot-1, left-handed point guard from Tucson, Ariz. Stoglin calls himself a "pass-first" player who can hit the 3.
"I knew they were looking for somebody ready to come in and play," said Stoglin, who said one of his biggest concerns is adjusting to weather far colder than Arizona's. "That's what [Gary Williams] told me from Day One, that I could earn time with hard work. My goal is to get lots of playing time."
Most of the freshmen believed they, too, were in the running for immediate playing time. Maryland must replace more than 54 percent of its scoring — a need that could translate into minutes for newcomers who can shoot.
That could mean time for Howard, Stoglin, 6-5 swingman Mychal Parker or others — it's hard to tell this early who will emerge. The players have been working out and battling against each other in pickup games all summer. Their introduction to fans will come tonight at the "Maryland Madness" team introduction and scrimmage at Comcast Center.
Parker, rated four stars by Rivals.com, may be the most highlytouted of the class. Like the other players, he was interviewed Thursday as he sat at a round table near the Comcast Center court before posing for the team picture at center court. Asked to describe his game, Parker, who played at the Miller School (Va.) replied: "I'm a really good slasher." He said he sees himself more as a shooting guard than a small forward.
All the Terps have been participating in strength coach Paul Ricci's drills — including running the "22." The drill is so named because players are asked to sprint up and down the court twice in 22 seconds or less. After a 40-second break, they perform the drill again — 21 more times. Players also pulled sleds.
Said Parker with a smile: "I was like, 'Oh man, is this football with those sleds?' "
So far, four Terps have passed the "22" drill. According to multiple players, those four are Mosley, Bowie, Howard and 6-10 center Berend Weijs from Harcum, a two-year college in Bryn Mawr, Pa.
Joining the other new players Thursday was 6-9 Ashton Pankey, who has been recovering from a stress fracture in his left shin.
"I'm still not 100 percent, but I'm playing like I am," said Pankey, from the Bronx, N.Y.
Howard, too, hopes to make a speedy impact. Asked earlier this year if he patterned his game after anybody, he replied, "Scoringwise and body build, Chauncey Billups." He said he enjoys the challenge of trying to stop bigger players in a man-to-man defense.
Veteran players described Howard with words such as "confident" and "swagger."
"I love Pe'Shon. He's a very physical player, and he can shoot the ball," said Mosley, Maryland's leading returning scorer at 10.1 points per game. "Terrell [Stoglin] is a pass-first guy. He's got different type of gears. Ashton [Pankey] is very athletic; he definitely rebounds a lot. We're going to need all six [new] guys."
Most of the upperclassmen were diplomatic when assessing the talents of the freshman class. After initially saying that "they all can play," Bowie was pressed to predict which of the newcomers might have the most immediate impact.
"Probably Pe'Shon," Bowie said. "He can really shoot it and he has a knack for scoring."
Howard acknowledged that there will be a burden to wearing Vasquez's old number. "He's such a great player, and he left on such a high note. Greivis is Greivis, and it's hard to kind of compete with that."