Wednesday, April 03, 2002

The CourtMaster on Maryland's Victory

Originally posted on

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is in session, and the court is very, very happy!

I want to share my thoughts on the National Champion Maryland Terrapins and what it means to their fans.

This year, the Terps were the toughest team in the nation, both physically and mentally. There was no better example of that than the championship victory against Indiana. Maryland made more than enough mistakes to lose this game, but their physical presence inside totally eradicated any ideas the Hoosiers had of doing much offensively besides knocking down 3-pointers.

Even more impressive was the Terps' response in crunch time. Once Indiana took their first and
only lead of the game, Maryland went on a 22-5 run to set the clock to midnight for the Cinderella Hoosiers. By the way, how did a team with five national championships wind up being the Cinderella team against a school that had never even played in the title game before? Just wondering, but I digress.

All four of the Terrapins' victories from the Sweet 16 on were the types of games that Maryland teams have made a habit of losing during the last 30+ years. So often in the past, the Terps would play well, even heroically at times, only to miss the critical shot or screw up the one play that invariably cost them a chance to win in the post season.

This year's Maryland team was just the opposite; sometimes making ONLY the plays they needed in order to find a way to win a game. When the Kentucky game was stuck on a 70-65 score for what seemed forever, the Terps made the defensive plays that kept the Wildcats at bay. Against Connecticut in one of the best basketball games of the season, it was Maryland making the clutch shots and overcoming a phenomenal performance by the Huskies' Caron Butler.

The Terps spotted Kansas a 13-2 early lead before totally dominating them for over 30 minutes. Maryland then shook free of a collective brain lock down the stretch to hold off the Jayhawks' comeback (something they were unable to do against Duke in last year's Final Four). Finally, there was the domination of the closing minutes against Indiana that led to the National Championship.

In my humble opinion, no Maryland team ever deserved to reap the rewards of success as much as this year's squad. The coaches and players overcame personal tragedies and crushing losses to grow and mature into a championship squad in every sense of the word.

For those who would still argue that there were better teams than this one, I would make one small point; these guys won the National Championship! It does not matter if they had the most talent; they won the most games and came home with the first title in school history. Of course they are the best team Maryland has ever had!

I think the argument about whether or not Juan Dixon is the best player in school history is also just as clear-cut; of course he is. Again, he is not the most physically talented player to wear a Maryland jersey, perhaps even not this year (Chris Wilcox is an absolute beast physically).

Dixon was able to do something no other player at the school had ever accomplished. He put the team on his back and carried them to a National Championship. Steve Francis never did that, nor did Len Elmore, Tom McMillen, John Lucas, Albert King, Buck Williams, Joe Smith, Keith Booth, and, yes, not even Len Bias. As small as Dixon's physical frame is, that is how huge his heart is.

Could Dixon's efforts create an entirely new legacy for those who follow him at College Park? Has he left enough of himself behind for Steve Blake, Tahj Holden, and Drew Nicholas to step up in the clutch next year, and to show incoming freshmen like Travis Garrison and John Gilchrist how to do so when it is their turn?

Could Dixon be like Duke's Johnny Dawkins, who showed Danny Ferry, who showed Christian Laettner, who showed Grant Hill, etc.? Have Dixon's efforts been enough to break the chain of underachieving when it counts most and finally lift Maryland to the status of an elite basketball program? Time will tell, but having a National Championship trophy on display will be a tangible reminder of the toughness and maturity that Juan Dixon and his team displayed in this historic 2001-2002 season.

OK, let's talk about the fans and the riots. I am embarrassed and disturbed by what transpired in College Park last night. The fact that there was also similar trouble on the Indiana campus is small consolation. Riots in "celebration" of a victory are dangerous and moronic.

Before any self-righteous Duke fans start screaming about how Maryland fans don't deserve a championship, let me address that from a different perspective.

Perhaps you read my column after Maryland lost to NC State in the ACC Tournament. I shared from my experience and my heart about the frustration and heartache long-time fans have suffered while rooting for the Terps.

Those fans were not on campus last night. They were in bars, restaurants, or safely tucked away in their homes screaming their lungs out supporting their team. After the game, they (1) jumped up and down and/or danced, (2) had a celebratory beverage or three, (3) traded high-fives with people they had never met, (4) hugged their spouses or significant others or (5) wept like babies that had just lost their pacifier. Their reactions did not include the urge to set something on fire, throw rocks at police officers, or bust through a store window and steal something.

Those fans that have supported the Terrapins through decades of tragedy and frustration, THEY deserve a championship team! I count myself in that group, and I'll be damned if I let a bunch of hoodlums or pyromaniacs diminish the glow of my happiest moment as a sports fan.
Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail at

Until next time, court is adjourned.