The debut of Maryland center Alex Len tonight against Albany brings to mind other first games for former Terps. Coming into College Park, most were more celebrated than 7-footer from the Ukraine, but few were as important as Len could be to this season’s Maryland team.
Len is something of a mystery, but there are well-respected coaches and scouts who believe that Len could become a first-round NBA draft choice. First-year Maryland coach Mark Turgeon has done his best to downplay Len’s potential, and probably won’t start him right away to allow him to get acclimated.
But Len’s debut certainly has Terps fans buzzing, and has Turgeon hoping that the freshman will help his young team continue to grow. Here’s a look at the debuts of other much-hyped Maryland players in the past 20 years.
1993-94 Joe Smith vs. Georgetown. Keith Booth was supposed to be the star of the recruiting class that year, but after some impressive performances in the preseason, it was clear that the skinny 6-10 forward from Virginia Beach was a stud. “Don’t create a monster,” Gary Williams warned a reporter after Smith dismantled a veteran Australian National Team. The media didn’t have to, as Smith scored 26 points and pulled down nine rebounds in a nationally-televised win over Georgetown and Othella Harrington at USAir Arena. The Terps upset the Hoyas, 84-83, in overtime, with Duane Simpkins scoring the winning basket. Smith went on to lead the Terps to the Sweet 16 and was named national freshman of the year.
1998-99 Steve Francis vs. Western Carolina. The No. 5 Terps drew a sellout to Cole Field House, mostly to watch the coming-out party for a local junior college player who many had heard about and few had seen during his one season at San Jacinto in Texas and his second at Allegany in Cumberland. The future Stevie Franchise didn’t disappoint, finishing with 17 points on eight of 10 shooting, as well as nine assists, in a 113-46 romp. “Sometimes, I felt like a spectator tonight, watching the other guys make plays,” said senior Laron Profit, who scored 14. “I felt like I should have bought a ticket.” Barely noticed was senior point guard Terrell Stokes' 15 assists.
2003-2004 Mike Jones vs. American. Jones was considered by many to be the No. 2 prospect in the country as a senior in high school in Massachusetts, behind some felllow from Akron, Ohio named LeBron James. Many thought Jones was going to light it up from 3-point range for the Terps, and he did at times throughout his career. He scored 10 points in his debut, a 79-48 rout of the Eagles in a game that was pretty much over by halftime (Maryland led 35-8). Jones was 4-of-9 from the field, but only 2-of-7 on 3s, a prelude to what many thought to be a disappointing career in College Park considering the hype.
2006-07 Greivis Vasquez vs. Hampton. Vasquez, who was mostly known as the guy feeding Kevin Durant all those alley-oops at Montrose Christian, made his presence felt in a 102-75 win over Hampton by scoring 12 points, with four rebounds and three assists. Vasquez played behind fellow freshman Eric Hayes. It was a few weeks later, when the Terps were still unbeaten at 7-0, when Vasquez introduced himself to the rest of the country. In a 72-66 win at Illinois in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Vasquez came off the bench to score 17 points, including eight straight points in one key stretch. “I was ready for this,” Vasquez said with the bravado that Maryland fans would come to know. “I’m from Venezuela. I didn’t come here just to sit on the bench. I came here to play. I’m ready for anything.”