Coach Brenda Frese's plan this season for the No. 21 Maryland women's basketball team is to substitute liberally, and that means plenty of court time for the newest additions such as guard Laurin Mincy, forward Alyssa Thomas and center Alicia DeVaughn.
In an exhibition game against the University of the District of Columbia on Sunday, Frese used five freshmen at the same time. Expect to see more of the same when the games count.
"They're playing beyond their years," Frese said of the class, which also includes guard Natasha Cloud and forward Whitney Bays. "Very poised. High IQ. I mean really picking things up quickly. I think probably the greatest thing about them is they just have a tremendous feel for the game."
Mincy was named a McDonald's All-American as a senior and was the first freshman in New Jersey basketball history to be named first-team All-State. DeVaughn also was a McDonald's All-American and three-time first-team All-State in Florida. Thomas was a Parade first-team All-American and the Pennsylvania AAAA High School Player of the Year.
Each freshman recruit played in her state's championship game and flourished in a winning environment. That has helped energize a team that last season failed to reach the NCAA tournament for the second time since Frese came to Maryland. The previous instance was in Frese's first season in 2002.
"Obviously, it's a lot of pressure," Mincy said of Frese's entrusting the freshmen with substantial responsibility. "I think the coaching staff as well as our teammates are going to have us prepared for all the challenges we're going to face this season."
That means leaning heavily on the likes of junior center Lynetta Kizer, who was ACC Rookie of the Year after the 2008-09 season, and forward Diandra Tchatchouang, named to the ACC All-Freshman Team last season after starting every game.
Kizer, for one, has been a vocal leader during practice, which is no surprise considering she made it a point to reach out to the incoming freshmen even before they arrived on campus.
"We definitely still have a young team," said Kizer, who played high school basketball at Potomac (Va.), "but one thing about everybody is they're so hungry, and I think you can see that by how they look. They look great. Since the spring, we contacted the freshmen and [said]: 'This is what we envision. This is where we want to go. We want to get another one of them.' "
Kizer was pointing to the NCAA championship banner hanging in the rafters of Comcast Center. Maryland won its first and only NCAA title in women's basketball in 2005-06, and the mission since has been to revisit that high point in program history. The current combination of impact freshmen and other skilled nonseniors may be just the group that enables the Terrapins to do so.
"Unlimited. Really high," Frese said of her team's ceiling. "And I think that's what's so fun. We're just scratching the surface right now, but you can just see. I mean we're doing some things already with this team that we've never done here just because of our length and our IQ and conditioning, which makes it really exciting from a coach's end to really have some different wrinkles that we've never been able to put in before."
Terps at a glance Best-case scenario
The freshmen live up to their billing as the No. 2-rated class in the country and play a major role in Maryland's advancing deep into the NCAA tournament. The team's commitment to fitness also pays off significantly, allowing the Terps to dictate a quick tempo, force turnovers and score points in droves.
The freshmen fail to meet the hype and are unable to develop on-court chemistry with their older teammates, leaving Maryland out of the NCAA tournament for a second consecutive season. A lack of senior leadership also would factor prominently into a failure to qualify.
Three players to watch
C Lynetta Kizer, Jr., 6-4: Top player back and most skilled inside presence averaged team-high 12.9 points and 7.8 rebounds.
F Diandra Tchatchouang, Soph., 6-3: Finished eighth in school history among freshmen in points and rebounds, seventh in 3-pointers made and third in blocks.
G Lauren Mincy, Fr., 6-0: Perhaps most decorated of Maryland's impact class of freshmen after being named three-time New Jersey All-State.
Three storylines to follow
•The possibility of five freshmen playing at the same time in critical situations in ACC games.
•Improvement on the road, where Maryland was 5-6 overall last season and 3-4 in the ACC.
•Getting regular contributions from as many as 10 players on the deepest team Frese has fielded since coming to Maryland.