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Before season opener, Maryland men's basketball team takes a trip to Baltimore

Two days before the Maryland men’s basketball team was scheduled to open its 2018-19 season, the Terps took a trip Sunday to Baltimore — specifically to the high school where two of their current players starred.

Sophomore guard Darryl Morsell said Monday that being back in his hometown and practicing in the Mount Saint Joseph gym where he and freshman forward Jalen Smith first made a name for themselves brought back special memories.

“Some of my friends and family got to go to the practice. It was good to see them because I don’t get to often see them,” Morsell said after practicing Monday at Xfinity Center.

Morsell and Smith also got to reconnect with their high school coach, Pat Clatchey, as well as some former high school teammates. What might have made the biggest impression on Morsell was seeing the banners again.

“To see the championship teams I was a part of, stuff like that,” Morsell said.

The trip also brought back memories of playing three years with Smith, who will likely join Morsell in the starting lineup Tuesday night when the Terps host Delaware at Xfinity Center.

“It means a lot, having a close friend like him, going to war with me is a great feeling,” Morsell said. “We won a lot of games in high school at Mount Saint Joe’s. We plan on winning a lot of games here together at Maryland.”

Said Clatchey: “I think it was just a great experience for our school community, our basketball program. We’re really proud of Darryl and Jalen playing at Maryland. It’s a buzz around town. People are excited that they’re there.”

The Terps will return to Baltimore next month, when they face one of last season’s Final Four teams, the Cinderellas from Loyola of Chicago, at Royal Farms Arena on Dec. 8.

“We have so many Terp fans in that city, with Darryl and Jalen, it was good to get them home and we were able to promote the game,” Turgeon said after practice Monday. “It was a really a good day for us and it made ‘Stix’ [Smith and Darryl feel good about themselves.”

Asked the significance of having two Baltimore players starting for the Terps, Turgeon said: “I just try to recruit the best players. I came here to recruit locally and do well locally. We’ve had some success. We’re having really nice success now locally. They’re just two really good kids.”

Aside from the friends and family of the two Baltimore players, as well as the current members of the Mount Saint Joseph team, the practice attracted former Terps stars Keith Booth and Ernie Graham, as well as Graham’s son, Jon, a key reserve on Turgeon’s first NCAA team at Maryland in 2014-15.

Booth was invited to the practice by Greg Manning Jr., with whom he served as an assistant under Jimmy Patsos at Loyola Maryland. Shortly after arriving at the Smith Center — no, it’s not named for the Maryland freshman — Booth was asked by Turgeon to talk with the team.

Booth reminisced about coming in as a freshman in 1993-94 with a virtual unknown center named Joe Smith, joining a team that had finished 12-16 the previous season with three freshman starters in Duane Simpkins, Johnny Rhodes and Exree Hipp.

The basketball program was still feeling the effects of the death of All-American Len Bias seven years before and had just come off NCAA probation that coach Gary Williams was hit with for the violations committed under Bob Wade.

Booth was the first Baltimore player to sign with Maryland since Ernie Graham in 1977. The year Booth arrived, Maryland had not played in the NCAA tournament since 1988, the year before Williams arrived.

“There was a lot going on campus. There weren’t a lot of expectations on us. We were picked next to last in the ACC,” Booth recalled. “I talked about that team and compared it to this team having a bunch of young guys and low expectations outside the team.”

That year, Maryland reached the Sweet 16, then followed it with another Sweet 16. It started a stretch of 11 straight NCAA tournament appearances, when the Terps reached the Sweet 16 seven times and the Final Four in 2001 and 2002, winning in 2002.

“I said, ‘I’ve seen a lot of you guys on the AAU circuit, and the talent is here. What’s going to determine it is not what anybody has to do — you guys will determine it,’ ” Booth said.

“There’s a lot of noise on campus right now [over the death of football player Jordan McNair and the firing of football coach DJ Durkin]. As players, as student-athletes, you get a chance to get away from all that when you step on the court.”

Clatchey was impressed with what he saw during the practice.

“It looks like they have a real talented team and they should have a good season,” he said.

Turgeon joked that the only downside of the trip to Baltimore was dealing with sophomore center Bruno Fernando.

“Bruno asked when we’re going to Angola. I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Turgeon said with a smile.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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