COLLEGE PARK – Around campus, the message is out: “Don’t Go, Joe.”
University of Maryland students have embraced the rhyme in a mass attempt to persuade Terrapin basketball star Joe Smith not to enter the NBA draft in May.
Their slogan appears on signs at basketball games, t-shirts, and even students’ electronic mail accounts as Smith makes his decision two seasons into his career as a Terp.
Jonathan Ho, a junior, hopes Smith stays to finish his education and bring recognition to the campus. Ho isn’t a big basketball fan – he hasn’t been to a game all season – but nevertheless changed the name on his electronic mail account to show his support for Smith.
If enough students changed logins, an e-mail user would see a long line of “Don’t Go Joes” on the computer screen.
“I saw others doing it, and I thought that would be a good way to get him to stay, since he has an e-mail account,” Ho says.
Freshman Jen McMenamin recently hung a “Don’t Go Joe” bedsheet in her dorm room window and wrote a letter published in the student newspaper, listing the reasons Smith should stay.
“I don’t think he’d ever get as much out of playing professional basketball than playing in college,” McMenamin says. “No matter where he goes he won’t get as much adoration as he does here.”
She cites students’ frequent sleep-outs for tickets at Cole Field House as an example of the Top 10-ranked basketball team’s popularity.
Though her friends are convinced Smith will go pro, McMenamin will leave the bedsheet hanging in her window until the draft deadline. “Everybody teases me … but I won’t give up,” she says.
Freshman Pete Noble is also filled with school spirit – he’s been to every home basketball game this season, and worries that Smith won’t be around next year.
“I want to enjoy his talent for a couple more years,” Noble says. A Feb. 25 game against Clemson stands out in his memory: In what may have been Smith’s last game at Cole Field House, he scored 33 points in the Terp’s 84-68 win.
“It was just phenomenal,” Noble says.
Athletic Director Deborah Yow praises Smith’s talents as a player as well as his personality off the court.
“He’s a special young man,” Yow says. “We will miss him greatly if he should leave.”
She adds that, if he decides to enter the draft, she hopes he returns to campus to complete his degree.
The 19-year-old, recently nominated for National College Player of the Year, is being shielded from press inquiries about his decision, according to the campus sports information department.
But some local stores are profitting from the hoopla. Terp Territory, a shop near campus, recently plastered its windows with new “Don’t Go Joe” t-shirts. And other Maryland basketball- related items are selling well, says General Manager Lori Alchiekha.
While Smith, who averages 20.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, may be the most visible team member, Alchiekha points out that her store didn’t leave out the rest of the squad. “We have all the team members’ numbers on baseball caps,” she says.
On campus, the University Book Center sold out of its “Not Your Ordinary Joe” t-shirts early in the season. But at the athletic department’s urging, the center did not reorder merchandise that did not include the whole team, says Pamela Viands, assistant director.
“We hope [Smith] stays – he’s been good for the school,” she says. “We think it’s absolutely awesome that so many people have embraced the team.” -30-