Nov. 7, 2001
By JIM O'CONNELL
AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK - Four of the country's premier college basketball teams will get it all started this year at Madison Square Garden, just a few subway stops from the World Trade Center.
"There is a special emphasis in coming to New York to play," Maryland coach Gary Williams said.
The Terrapins will face Arizona on Thursday night in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, the official tip-off to the season. Maryland, No. 2 in the AP's preseason poll, will be playing a fellow Final Four participant from last season.
No. 5 Florida plays No. 16 Temple in the other game. The winners will meet Friday night, as will the losers.
"I was looking at the fourth-place finishers in this tournament the last four years and it was Georgetown, Duke, Kentucky and Texas," Williams said. "They're all great programs so obviously the competition is tough and we expect to really find out something about our team. You can schedule 10 Ws or play in this and see how good you are."
It is not only the chance to help New York continue its return to normalcy following the Sept. 11 attacks that makes this sixth annual event important.
The tournament, sponsored by IKON, has raised $2 million for cancer research, a subject close to Arizona coach Lute Olson, who lost his wife, Bobbi, to ovarian cancer last year. Her death became a focal point for Arizona's run to the national championship game last season, where the Wildcats lost to Duke.
"Bobbi is another reason we're glad to play in this event," he said. "Research has made great strides and we're just hopeful that we can have a part in eradicating this horrible disease."
Arizona will definitely have the most different look from last season with four starters gone, three early entries to the NBA draft. The only starter back is point guard Jason Gardner and he applied for the draft, then decided to return.
"Our point guards through the years have been outstanding and Jason fits into that mold," Olson said. "The biggest thing he and Luke Walton and Rick Anderson have to do is provide leadership for these young players who have no clue what Division I basketball is all about.
"Jason has been taking a strong leadership role not only on but off the court. It's a great experience for him because he has to provide the leadership."
Maryland has four starters back from the team that lost to Duke in the national semifinals in March. The Terrapins were picked behind only the Blue Devils in the preseason poll, matching the highest ranking in school history.
"This is the third time in the last four years we've been in the top six or better in the preseason so we've been through this before," Williams said. "We'd rather be here than not ranked in the top 100, which we weren't when we got here. The ranking's nice but the preseason stops Thursday."
Florida-Temple is a rematch of last season's NCAA second-round game that Temple won by 21 points. This will be the first game as a Hall of Famer for Temple coach John Chaney. He was inducted last month and having a plaque in Springfield, Mass., hasn't changed him one bit.
"We don't have a lot of quality players on our ball club," he said in his usual self-deprecating manner. "We have Lynn Greer and Kevin Lyde but we'll be missing David Hawkins. We felt he was going to be a big help but he's ineligible the first semester. Last year, with us playing a lot of matchup zone, we found them shooting the ball a little bit poorly."
Florida's backcourt will the key. Brett Nelson returns off a very good sophomore year and Justin Hamilton starts his comeback from major knee surgery that limited him to 14 games last season.
"This is a situation where we're starting a week to 10 days before the others start," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "But Kentucky lost its two games here last year and came back and ran off a bunch of wins and then won the SEC. Certainly, these early games helped them."