Seniors hope to show this is their year

College Park — They are now seniors, coming into their final college basketball season at the University of Maryland with a challenge from their coach and a chip on their shoulders.

Individually, and collectively, they are hoping to prove worthy of being full-time starters, and perhaps late-blooming stars.


When the 2010-11 Terps walked from the mezzanine down to the court Friday night at Comcast Center to celebrate Maryland Madness with their fans, the trio of seniors led a young team that included five freshmen and a junior college transfer.

Each of those seniors has had moments of brilliance, but, for different reasons, none have been able to sustain them.


Cliff Tucker's first three years as a Terp will be remembered for an off-balance, buzzer-beating 3-pointer at Comcast Center against Georgia Tech last season and his dominance of North Carolina as a sophomore, but also for lackadaisical practice habits that led to long stretches in head coach Gary Williams' doghouse.

Adrian Bowie's career has been a different kind of rollercoaster ride, as he tried to find his role playing behind Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes while working to become a true point guard and to improve an outside shot that helped beat Duke last season.

Even Dino Gregory has had his share of highlight reel snippets — making a few rim-rattling dunks and head-shaking blocks his first couple of years, or picking up a huge charge against Florida State last season — but now he is being counted on for more than his athleticism or to give Landon Milbourne a break.

The seniors were introduced last, trailed only by the questions that will follow them into a season that begins Nov. 8 against Seattle.

"They have to look forward to this season and say, 'This is our turn,' " Williams said Thursday at Media Day. "I hope they go after it. I think they've been good players, but they've played behind three great players. I hope they have a chip in terms of how badly they want to show it."

It started this summer when the gym and weight room, minus Vasquez' outsized personality as well as the blue-collar work ethic of Hayes and Milbourne, was suddenly quiet.

Against their typical traits, Bowie had to talk and Tucker had to work. The leadership role came more naturally to Gregory, but it was new nonetheless.

"I would say something, then Cliff would say something and then Dino would say something," said Bowie, who started 28 games a sophomore.


The result, according to Williams: this year's team worked even harder in the off-season than its immediate predecessor, pushed by the memory of last season's heartbreaking loss to Michigan State at the buzzer in the second round of the NCAA tournament and fueled by the goal of going further this season.

Regardless of talent, Williams has always given the leadership role to his seniors.

"In Coach Williams' system, it's always seniors first," Bowie said Friday night before the madness event began. "Being a senior, it's our job to step up. Being on a team two years ago with Dave Neal we saw how important that is. He showed that less-heralded players can be very important to the team."

Neal, who had played sparingly his first three years in part because of injuries, wound up being a team leader as a senor and helped the Terps get back to the NCAA tournament.

"Everyone was doubting us that year, and we made it to the tournament," Neal, who played in Ireland last year, said before playing in the alumni game. "I had a chip on my shoulder and I'm sure they do, too."

Said Gregory, "People think that nobody in our senior class is any good, that we're the throw-away class. We want to show that we're more than just role players."


If Friday night was their chance to lead their younger teammates in dunking drills and dancing skills, Saturday will be their chance to set an example in practice.

Their predecessors have dispersed. Vasquez, a first-round draft choice of the Memphis Grizzlies, is rehabbing after late-summer ankle surgery; Hayes is playing in Spain, scoring 22 points in his debut with a second-division team. Milbourne playing in France.

"They set the bar high," said Williams, who entered the court wearing a flight suit while a video of the 65-year-old coach sitting in the cockpit of an A-10 "flying" the tank bomber over Maryland played.

This year's seniors hope to set the bar even higher.

"Our seniors will be remembered for what they did their senior year," Williams said.