No football for Maryland today, which makes it the perfect time to continue on with the Top Terp Tourney. Here we have the second match-up of the tournament's Final Four, and it's probably the most difficult choice of the tournament. I legitimately have no idea which way this vote will turn, and it's the closest thing we have to a toss-up in the entire thing.
The winner, of course, will get what appears to be Juan Dixon in the final. Let's get to it.
The #2 Seed: Joe Smith, PF/C, #32 1993-1995
As far as names go, you could hardly dream up anything more "normal" than Joe Smith. As far as players go, however, Smith was anything but.
It was Smith, after all, who garnered Maryland's only Naismith National Player of the Year Award, recognition that eluded Dixon, Albert King, and even Len Bias. He had probably the two best seasons of any Terrapin ever, and turned in some of the greatest single-game performances in Terp history as well.
The beginning of his career as unassuming as his name. Overlooked in his Virginia high school, he spurned childhood favorites Duke and UNC in favor of Maryland, which was by far the biggest school recruiting him. Unlike so many other stars, particularly from the Lefty era, who held a reputation before ever setting foot on campus, Smith was just about invisible.
And then the season started.
In his first game, the no-name Smith came out of nowhere to lead all scorers with 26 points against Georgetown, easily besting 2nd Team Preseason All-American Othella Harrington. After that, it was pretty obvious who Smith was: a star. He never slowed down after that 26 point performance, even against brutal ACC competition. He finished his freshman season with averages of 19.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game - a double-double as a freshman - and 1st Team All-ACC honors.
His sophomore year was similarly spectacular. He was great from start to finish, and his only truly poor game - a six-point performance at home against Duke - was avenged with probably the best single-game performance in Maryland history: a 40-point, 18-rebound game against the Dukies in Cameron Indoor that included the game-winning shot. Greivis Vasquez would end up dropping 41 against VT years later, but for my money it'll take a lot more than that to topple the enormity of Smith's performance.
His sophomore year-end results: 20.8 points per game, 10.6 rebounds per game, and the Naismith Player of the Year award. Despite being a top 10 team all season long, Smith and the Terrapins couldn't better their postseason performance from the year before, again bowing out of the ACC Tournament after a round and falling in the Sweet Sixteen, losing to 8th-ranked UConn despite a predictable double-double from Joe. He left for the NBA after that, going #1 in the draft before bouncing around and becoming the ultimate NBA journeyman.
In terms of final, end-of-year, team results, I suppose Smith's Maryland career is a little lacking. But that's about all his career is lacking. His stats are immense, his talent obvious, and his impact on the program immeasurable - Maryland had begun the rebuilding process before Smith arrived, but it was his arrival that signaled its completion. The Terrapins went from 12-16 the year before his freshman season, and by the time he left they were top 10 regulars once again. (Oh, and there's that little NPOY thing, too.)
The #3 Seed: #21, Greivis Vasquez, G, 2006-2010
The really interesting thing to me about assessing Vasquez in this tourney is that he's the only one who hasn't really had a settling-in period. Smith, for example, left the program 17 years ago. Maryland has had a team without The General for, uh, one season. There's been no time for Vasquez's legacy to cement and for fans to form a consensus on where he stands in the big scheme of things, which can make things like this a little confusing.
But no matter: he's earned his #3 seed with his phenomenal stats, underrated impact on the program, delightful style of player, and, perhaps most of all, utterly lovable personality.
It's often been said that Greivis was Gary Williams on the court, mostly because of his fiery, expressive personality. (That's a misconception, actually, because I don't think Gary ever acted like that when he did play.) But GV loved his coach, for sure, and by the end of his career, GW loved his point guard. If Vasquez wasn't the Gary-on-speed, ultra-demonstrative, do-things-like-this kind of guy he was, there's no doubt in mind we don't remember him the same way.
Lest we forget the aforementioned phenomenal stats, underrated impact on the program, and delightful game, though: Vasquez is second only to Juan Dixon in career points scored in Maryland history, and if a certain pass hit a certain someone in the head, he had a chance at being tops. He's also second in career assists, trailing just Steve Blake. The only other player who's in the top five of both lists: John Lucas, who I hear was pretty good.
And don't forget, either, that Vasquez is the only player in ACC history to score 2,000 points, dish 750 assists, and grab 600 rebounds. Out of all the great players in ACC history who could seemingly do everything - Johnny Dawkins, Chris Paul, Phil Ford, Grant Hill, Michael Jordan - not a single one did that. (It isn't evidence of Vasquez's superiority over those many fantastic players, because he isn't "better" than them, but it is evidence of his quality.)
His style of play - up-and-down, a mile a minute, crazy passes, crazy shots - was begging for criticism (and often received it), it seemed, until mid-way through his junior year, at which point it became clear that everything had come together for GV. By his senior year, he was undeniably great, and his senior season was predictably fantastic. But what's probably most striking about Greivis was how comfortable he was in the big moment. He lived for the spotlight, and when the occasion arose - the still-unbelievable UNC game, the Illinois steal, Duke at home, and so many others - he stepped up.
I could write an essay on Vasquez, much like I could with Juan. But I think you get my drift.
So, in what will likely be a toss-up, who you got?