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Francis steals show at Maryland's Midnight Madness
Posted: Monday October 19, 1998 09:33 PM
COLLEGE PARK, Maryland (AP) -- After the smoke cleared and the laser lights were shut down, the boisterous crowd settled back in anticipation of the main event of Midnight Madness -- the intrasquad scrimmage.
That's when Steve Francis gave the fans yet another reason to jump up and cheer.
The Maryland basketball team was in a layup line shortly after midnight Saturday morning when Francis heaved the ball off the backboard, caught the rebound and slammed it through the hoop.
The 12,371 fans -- the most ever to attend Midnight Madness at Cole Field House -- went wild.
The purpose of the event, according to coach Gary Williams, was to allow the players to have some fun and get the fans excited about the basketball team.
Midnight Madness also served as a coming-out party for Francis, the highly-touted junior college guard who should play a key role this season for a Maryland team that has its sights set on reaching the Final Four.
If first impressions mean anything, then Francis should deliver.
After his pregame exhibition, the 6-foot-3 junior botched a dunk off the opening tap. But he came back with a 3-pointer; jammed home an intentional miss by teammate Laron Profit; sent Profit a perfect alley-hoop pass for a dunk and finished his seven-point performance with a whirling drive and a resounding jam that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Williams, who hasn't had a player attract this much attention since Joe Smith emerged as a bona fide star in 1994, tried to temper the enthusiasm by reminding reporters that Francis hasn't proved anything yet.
"He's got a lot of work to do before we rush the expectations. He hasn't played a game in college yet," Williams said. "He's got the tools. It's a matter of him combining his skills with the rest of the players. We have some really good players in the program already."
Williams will spend the next several weeks trying to find the best combination on a team he claims is deeper than any he has ever coached.
"We had a very good team going into Joe Smith's sophomore year but we didn't quite have the depth that we have now," Williams said. "If we're healthy, we're 10 deep. Of course, that depth has a way of going away very quickly with a couple of injuries."
Now, however, is not the time for worry. The Terrapins, who are ranked in the top 10 in many preseason polls, are optimistic they can live up to the advance billing and reach the NCAA tournament for a sixth straight season.
Francis, who averaged 25 points and nine assists at Allegany (Maryland) Community College last season, also must deal with lofty expectations."I think Steve has been good so far. He's said all the right things," Williams said. "He understands his role on the team. I think you saw his passing tonight. Everybody can dunk out there. It's not a big deal to me. What's a big deal is he made a couple passes off the break that were great passes. That's what's going to make us good."
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