Maryland women's basketball greatest player: Could Alyssa Thomas be the choice?

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Now that I hope I've got you thinking, "Hey, that Vicky Bullett might just be the greatest of all-time," I'll make the case for Alyssa Thomas.

In the previous story in this series, I laid out the argument for Vicky Bullett as Maryland women's basketball's Greatest of All Time (GOAT). Today, I'm going to take a look at my other finalist, Alyssa Thomas. Thomas has had a jaw dropping career at Maryland and her career numbers, awards and honors automatically place her among the best of the best.

When I wrote about Marissa Coleman, I called her the most versatile player to wear a Maryland uniform. She was just that until the arrival of Alyssa Thomas who donned the number 25 - the same jersey number as Coleman - and is the subject of today's story.

Thomas finished her career as the all-time leading scorer in the history of Maryland basketball. Period. No qualifying adjective necessary. No Terrapins player - man or woman - scored more than Thomas' 2,356. With her first rebound in her last collegiate game, ultimately finishing with 1,235, she also became Maryland's career rebounding leader. Again, no qualifying adjective needed.

Without intending to diminish what she accomplished, some of her career marks are limited to the women's program. Her career scoring average of 17.5, for example, is the highest in Maryland women's history. She recently passed Langhorne, who finished with 889, to become the Terrapins' all time leader in career field goals made with 890. On the other hand, Thomas was a high volume shooter. Her 1,868 field goal attempts are 265 more than second place Marissa Coleman and she needed 505 more shots to make one more basket than Crystal Langhorne.

Thomas got to the free throw line and got there a lot. Crystal Langhorne shot more free throws than anyone in Maryland women's history. In fact with high flying 747, Langhorne stepped to the line 27 more times than Thomas who is second. However, because AT is fifth in free throw percentage, she is first in free throws made with 557 recently soaring past Shay Doron's 492 to take the top spot. Her career rebound average of 9.1 ties her for second best among Terrapin women (remember the story of Kris Kirchner from part one) and is tied for first with Langhorne among four year players.

Despite playing multiple positions, with 488, AT landed in the top five in women's program history in assists surpassing that aspect of Marissa Coleman's versatility and trailing only four point guards - two of whom (Toliver and Heiss) - are on the list of nine that served as my starting point in this discussion.

Because she played mostly on the wing or up top, Thomas didn't amass a significant number of blocked shots though she did have one quite memorable and noteworthy block in a game on February 19, 2012 - a 63-61 Terps win over Duke. Besides rebounding, Thomas also excelled as a thief on the defensive side of the ball. Here, her career total of 238 makes her one of Maryland's six best.

I've talked about the durability of some of the players on this list and AT is again among the best. She has started every game she's played for the Terps since arriving on campus as a freshman in 2010. Once again passing Crystal Langhorne, when Thomas took the floor as a starter in the 2014 Final Four it marked her 135th start - one better than Langhorne's 134. Thomas missed only two games in her four years - once as a freshman and once in her sophomore year. One of those games (the sophomore season) turned into a shocking 75-69 loss to Virginia Tech in College Park. If I deleted all the other content about Thomas, this alone should provide some idea of her importance to the team.

Then, of course, came the 2012-2013 season. For Maryland, it was the season of the witch. Sorry, that was for Donovan in 1966 but it might well have applied to that year's Terps. Actually, it was the season of the injury. Principally the ACL tear but also the broken nose, the dislocated kneecap, and mononucleosis. The Terps lost two players, point guard Brene Moseley and backup center Essence Townsend before the season began. In the fifth game, shooting guard Laurin Mincy joined the ACL tear club. Mincy's injury left the Terps with eight active players until volleyball player Caitlin Adams joined the team in January. The situation demanded a player of great (and here's that word again) versatility - one who could play four positions ranging from point guard to power forward.

Fortunately, Maryland had just such a player: Alyssa Thomas. With Thomas leading the way, the Terps ended their penultimate ACC season with 14 wins and only 4 losses in league play which was good enough to tie for second place. Maryland finished the season with an overall record of 26-8 eventually losing to Connecticut in the Sweet Sixteen. For the season, Thomas averaged over 34 minutes per game while leading not just Maryland but the ACC in scoring, rebounding, and assists. She registered the first triple double in ACC Tournament history in the Terrapins' quarter final win over Wake Forest. And speaking of triple doubles, Thomas has added four more in her senior season giving her six for her career just one shy of the NCAA record.

Understandably, people took notice. Of course, they had noticed Thomas before. In addition to making the All-ACC second team in her first year, she won the Freshman of the Year Award. As a sophomore she was a consensus All-American and won the ACC Player of the Year. The awards repeated in her junior season and again in her senior season. Thomas became only the second player to win three ACC Player of the Year Awards and the third Terp to be named All-ACC in all four years.

Understandably, much of the focus has been on Thomas' offensive prowess and I've read comments by some folks who have minimized her efforts on the defensive end of the court. I will address that with three brief thoughts. First, I point you again to her 238 career steals where she finished sixth all-time at Maryland. Second, of her 1235 rebounds, 853 came off the defensive glass and, as any coach will tell you, a defensive possession isn't finished until the rebound is secured. Finally, in addition to her rebounding, I can think of no Terrapins player of whom so much was demanded on the offensive end as Alyssa Thomas. Whether it was scoring, starting the fast break, or unning the team as a point forward. I don't think the coaches could have asked more of her.

Maryland's record over Thomas' four years is 109 wins and 28 losses. The Terps are 108-27 with Thomas in the lineup and 1-1 without her. Maryland can lay claim to one ACC Tournament championship and four NCAA appearances - with one season each ending in the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, and the Final Four.

★★★

So, now it comes down to the end. Measuring the individual accomplishments against the backdrop of the team's collective performance. If Vicky Bullett had played 135 games as Alyssa Thomas did rather than the 113 that she played, would their individual stats be all but inseparable? The Terps were barely a .500 team in Vicky's first two seasons. But the team that Bullett joined in 1985 had gone 9-18 the season before and her presence helped turn that into a 17-14 season with an appearance in the NCAA Tournament by virtue of their ACC Tournament win. On the other hand, though the Terps won 21 games the season before Thomas arrived, they had failed to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Coach Frese's first season at Maryland. Thomas has an ACC Championship, four NCAA Tournaments, and a Final Four appearance. Bullett's teams won three ACC Tournaments and played in three NCAA Tournaments. Like Thomas, she had one season end in the Elite Eight and one in the Final Four.

At the end of this journey, I try to imagine Vicky Bullett playing with the Terps from 2010 to 2014 in place of Alyssa Thomas and vice-versa. At the end of this journey, I've speculated about whose impact would have been greater on the other's team. At the end of this journey, I think about two women whose personalities are remarkably similar in their work ethic and in how they try to redirect attention away from themselves and toward their teammates. At the end of this journey, I think of one last anecdote about Vicky Bullett attending senior day in 2014 and asking someone to help her get Alyssa Thomas' autograph. At the end of this journey, I have to conclude that if Vicky Bullett holds her in such respect, I have to agree with her. So, at the end of this journey, I have to steal a phrase from HughGR and say that for Maryland there is no GOAT without AT. I cast my final vote for Alyssa Thomas.

Thanks for coming along with me. I hope you've enjoyed the ride but before you hop off, here's your chance to choose. Did I make the right choice ? Or should I have chosen Vicky? or Lang? or Riss? or KT? or...

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