And now, for the main event. For those just joining, we've been counting down the top 16 players of the Gary Williams era. Today we arrive at our final match up. Juan Dixon vs. Joe Smith.
I think almost everything expected and thinks that Juan Dixon deserved to be in the final and that showed by his 77%-23% victory over Walt Williams. But then we had the Vasquez v. Smith match up. I expected it to be close and I expected it to spark a lot of debate, which it indeed has. That match up seemed to pit the older Maryland fans against the younger fans. The final result? Smith edged out Vasquez by 23 votes. 23 VOTES! Talk about a fan base divided.
I think in the end, each player brought a lot to Maryland and the problem is a chicken and egg one - many feel that without Joe Smith, Maryland basketball today wouldn't exist. So regardless of what Vasquez accomplished, he wouldn't have been able to do so if Joe Smith never came to Maryland. For Vasquez, many pointed to the fact that he career was a four year one and he's the only player in ACC history who scored 2,000 points, dished 750 assists, and grabbed 600 rebounds. That's saying something. I wouldn't have had a problem with either making the final, so now we move onto the matchup of Dixon vs. Smith.
The One Seed - #3, Juan Dixon, G, 1998- 2002
Juan Dixon. If you're a fan of the Maryland Terrapins, that name should instantly bring a smile to your face. It should trigger memories of the 2002 National Title. I immediately remember sitting under the basket with Maryland's pep band playing "We are the Champions" and trying to watch the celebration that was occurring in front of me. I think of the 2001 Final Four, when Maryland finally broke through after that dominant game against Stanford. I I think of a kid who no one thought could make it in the ACC. He was a kid who overcame a lot in his life. Fortunately for him, one coach saw his potential and ensured that he lived up to it.
Dixon finished his career as Maryland's #1 leading scorer. In his career, Dixon averaged 16.1 points per game, including 20.4 points per game his senior season, to go along with 4.6 rebounds per game and 2.9 assists per game. Juan never really amazed me with crazy athletic ability or insane dunks. In fact, most of the time when he got a fast break he'd do the characteristic Juan Dixon finger roll into the front of the basket, rather than dunking. What amazed me about Dixon was his ability to get open, his knack for hitting an important shot, and his defense. I often felt that if you saw Dixon as an opposing player and had never heard of him, you'd probably brush him off in your mind and think there was no way this guy was going to beat you. But then he did. He did it running from the top of the key, under the basket and then reappearing at the free throw line to nail a jumper. He did it with a three pointer at just the right time, like in the national championship game when he hit a fade away three to give the lead back to Maryland after Indiana had taken their first lead of the game. He did it when he was out on the court for 39.5 of the 40 possible minutes. He did it making free throws at the end of the game, after swiping his hand across his heart in memory of his mother. Juan had this determination for winning and you saw it every time he was on the court. He emulated his coach out on the floor and when they finally got to the top of the mountain in 2002, the smile on both of their faces is something I'll never forget. He led Maryland to a place where no other player had been able to - the school's first National Title.
Dixon was also the 2002 ACC Player of the year and a consensus 1st-team All-American.
2002 NCAA Basketball Championship (via ncaaondemand)
The Two Seed:, PF/C, 1993-1995
Joe Smith was a monster. He was a man among boys when he was on the court in college. And he saved Maryland basketball. While Juan Dixon lead Maryland to the promise land, Smith lead Maryland out of the darkness that paved the way for the Terps to accomplish what they did in later years. It's scary to think about what Maryland basketball would have been like without Joe Smith.
Joseph Leynard Smithstepped foot on Maryland’s campus in 1993 and immediately made a name for himself. In his first game on November 26, 1993, Maryland found themselves matched up against the Georgetown Hoyas. Maryland was coming off of NCAA sanctions that had crippled the program the previous two years and Maryland fans were looking for something to get behind and believe in. Their prayers were answered when Smith, who finished with 26 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist and 3 steals, and helped propel Maryland to an 84-83 overtime victory over #15 Georgetown. After enduring the tragedy of Len Biasand the sanctions against the program that soon followed, Maryland fans could once again feel excitement about their team and Smith was the engine driving that Maryland optimism.
Smith and Maryland capped off that season with a trip to the NCAA tournament where they upset #2 seed and 8th ranked UMass in the 2nd round. Maryland then lost their Sweet 16 match up to Michigan, but Maryland had still made a statement – the Terps were back from the brink of death. Smith finished his freshman year as a first-team All-ACC selection, averaging 19.4 ppg and 10.7 rebounds/game.
In Smith’s sophomore year, Maryland again advanced to the sweet 16 and also finished 12-4 in the ACC. Smith had yet another dominant season, this time finishing with 20.8 ppg and 10.6 rpg. He was named the ACC Player of the Year and also received the Naismith National Player of the Year Award, the only Terp to receive that honor. He was also a first team All-American selection his sophomore year. Finally, Smith had what I believe is one of the single best performance in Maryland basketball history when he dropped 40 points and grabbed 18 boards at Cameron Indoor against Duke, including hitting the game winning shot. All of this resulted in Smith leaving Maryland after his sophomore year for the NBA draft, where he was selected #1 overall. Had Smith returned to Maryland for his junior year, you can’t help but wonder what would have been and what the Terps could have accomplished.
Maryland wins at Duke, 1995 (via JafarWilliams)
So there you have it. The #1 vs. the #2. Who will prevail? You decide.