We thought we'd take a break from all the new uniform coverage and get back to the Top Terp Tournament. It's the Final Four, people. And these next three matchups will determine who you, the Testudo Times community, crowns as the top Maryland basketball player of the Gary Williams era.
These two names should be familiar to all Terp fans, even the youngins who never got to see Walt "The Wizard" play. In the #1 spot is Juan Dixon: Maryland's all time leading scorer, and the undisputed leader of its only National Championship winning team. The #4 seed belongs to Walt Williams: the star who stuck around after the sanctions hit and put together perhaps the greatest statistical individual season of any Terp ever. We break down Juan vs. Walt below.
The #1 Seed: #3, Juan Dixon, G, 1998-2002
Where to start with Juan Dixon? I guess from the beginning.
Legend has it that Gary Williams first became enamored with Juan Dixon after seeing him dive for a loose ball late in an AAU game with his team down by double digit points. It was the sort of drive that Gary Williams loved to see in his players, and the sort of grit that served Dixon well as he lead Maryland to heights it had never reached before.
Even to casual college basketball fans, Dixon’s team accomplishments are well known. Back to back Final Fours and 1 National Championship. The name Juan Dixon will also be associated with those teams. But as Ben B. alluded to, there is so much more to Dixon’s career than the two banners that currently hang from the roof of the Comcast Center.
Juan averaged over 18 points a game in three different seasons. He was one of the best defensive guards of the Gary Williams – era and amassed more steals than any Terrapins player ever not named Johnny Rhodes. And he, of course, is Maryland’s all-time scoring leader with 2,269 points.
Those numbers alone make a strong case for Juan Dixon being the best player of the Gary-era. But perhaps more important than his statistics, or his overall team accomplishments, is the fact that Juan Dixon, like all great players, had a propensity to step up in the biggest moments. During his junior season, he scored 31 points in an upset at #1 Duke, breaking their then-illustrious home winning streak. A year later he did it again, scoring 28 in another upset victory at Cameron Indoor. Those performances inspired Terp fans to start renaming Duke’s stadium this.
Duke games were big, but the NCAA Tournament was bigger, and Juan adjusted his game accordingly. In the 01-02 Tournament that culminated in a National Championship, Juan Dixon was simply unstoppable. He scored 29 in an opening round victory against Siena, 29 the following round against Wisconsin, 19 in the round of 16 game against Kentucky, 27 including a 3-point dagger against UConn in the round of 8 game, 33 in the National Semifinal vs. Kansas, and 18 in a low-scoring Championship game against Indiana. Juan Dixon took no games off. And the bigger the stage, the bigger Juan played.
He’s got the individual statistics, the team accomplishments, and the underdog story that so accurately represents what Maryland basketball was under the Gary Williams era. Is that all enough to propel Juan Dixon to the Finals of this tournament?
The #4 Seed:#42, Walt Williams, G/F, 1988-1992
As mentioned above, Walt Williams meant more to the MD program than numbers can possibly show. After the Len Bias tragedy, Williams could have bolted for greener pastures. No one would have faulted him. Instead, he stayed on and carried the program through its toughest time. The fact that the Wizard stuck it out in the first two years of the Gary era definitely earns him some votes. But make no mistake about it, the Wizard's accomplishments stand alone as some of the greatest of any player in Maryland history.
After not playing his freshman season, Williams put together a solid sophomore campaign averaging 12.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. Oh, and he shot nearly 48% from three. He raised his game his junior season with 18.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg, and 5.4 apg. And in Williams' senior season, his statistics were simply mind boggling. The Wizard set a single season record (that still stands), averaging 26.8 points per game. That season, he went 19 straight games with at least 20 points.
Williams finished his Terp career 11th on Maryland's all-time scoring list, 11th on the assist list, and 8th on the steals list. And he did it all while missing his entire freshman year and 11 games from his junior year.
Walt Williams never had a shot to have the kind of team success that Dixon did. But he single-handedly kept the team competitive in Gary Williams' first two seasons and he showed a kind of loyalty that we rarely see today in college athletics. Simply put, Walt Williams is a great Terp, and one that is certainly deserving of a spot in this competition's Final Four.
So there you have it. Two Terp legends. Only one can move on. Who ya got?