Who is the greatest Maryland women's basketball player of all time? I have little doubt that for some people answering the question, "Who is the greatest ______ of all time?" can be determined in a fairly straightforward manner. For others, settling on a single name is a more nuanced proposition. I certainly fall into the latter category.
The ground rules
Here's a question. Can you truly compare players from different eras? First, with little or no film to watch, you have to confront the accuracy of memory. And when reaching for thirty-five year old memories you have to clear a lot of brush. Then you have to deal with change. Rule changes, changes in training, advances in medicine, better equipment, even increased participation levels all impact the discussion. For purposes of this discussion, I'm going to posit that the qualities that make a player great in one era are transferable and that a great player from one era would be comparably great in another.
But other issues enter my thought process. Here's one: Given two players of comparable statistical achievements should I give added weight to to the team's accomplishments? Does playing on an ACC Tournament championship team, a national champion or even a Final Four team add some stature to a player's individual achievements? (For football fans this might be the equivalent of Dan Marino versus John Elway.) But what if player A in the above comparison had more accomplished teammates than player B? Does that then discount the championship that player A won in comparing her to player B?
And, of course, there's the question of comparing players from different positions. How does one compare a post player with a point guard? Does a post player's blocked shot somehow equate to the point guard's assist?
Finally, where does one start? In Maryland's case, nine honored women's jerseys currently hang from the rafters of Comcast Center. So again, to simplify the discussion, I'm going to assume that the women's basketball program has provided some measure of self selection. Thus, eliminated from consideration are Tianna Hawkins, Christy Winters-Scott, Marcia Richardson, and perhaps the best of all of them, Kris Kirchner.
So I'm going to start with a list of nine - Tara Heiss, Jasmina Perazic, Vicky Bullett, Shay Doron, Laura Harper, Crystal Langhorne, Marissa Coleman, Kristi Toliver, and Alyssa Thomas - and pare it down from there. In the first round of eliminations, I'm going to cut four players in no particular order.
A brief digression
(For those of you who aren't historians of Maryland women's basketball and I suspect many among you are not, Kirchner was probably the second truly great player in Maryland's history. She played from 1978 -80 in the days of the AIAW. The only reason she isn't on this list - and the likely reason her jersey isn't honored - is that she transferred from Maryland after her junior year.
In her three years at Maryland, the Terps were 70-20, won two conference championships and lost in the conference finals in her last season. Until Marissa Coleman scored 42 in a Sweet Sixteen game against Vanderbilt in 2009, Kirchner's 39 points in a game had been equalled but never surpassed. Despite playing only three years, she still stands sixteenth and seventh on the Terps all-time scoring and rebounding lists. She's the only Terrapin to average a double double for her career.)
The first eliminations
I'll start the elimination process with Tara Heiss who, in some ways, probably belongs much closer to the top of this list. Tara was was Maryland's first great player. She was an exceptionally gifted athlete who played the game with an infectious joy and abandon that would have made her a true star in today's world. Perhaps my memory is a tad (or a Todd) distorted, but my recollections of Tara are of someone who played with a creativity and skills that evoke memories of Pete Maravich. She was a deadly shooter but played in the era before the three point shot so her scoring totals are lower than they would be were she playing in the current time. Still, Tara's name can be found among the all time Terrapins leaders in career scoring and assists but, despite her gifts, and perhaps because I'm digging through memories that are over three decades old and that date to a time when my interest in the Maryland women's program was somewhat tangential, I have to place others ahead of her.
The same is true for Jasmina "Jazz" Perazic. Jazz was the program's first All-American and was a scoring powerhouse who still ranks in the top twenty all-time Terrapins scorers. Jazz played in the first NCAA women's Final Four. In addition to being Maryland's 2008 ACC Legend, Jazz is in the Maryland Hall of Fame and will be inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in June. As with Heiss, the overarching style of play was so different when Jazz competed in the early eighties that between the fog of memory and the difficulties that arise in trying to translate her accomplishments, I have to keep her on the bench.
Although she won the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player award and was selected this year as the Terps' last ACC Legend, the next player I'm eliminating is Laura Harper. Harper was a solid player who finished her career as a top twenty scorer and top ten rebounder for Maryland and she still holds the career record for blocked shots. The intangible qualities she brought to the court aren't easily quantified but four of the remaining players were her teammates and despite that MOP Award, I think, they are more deserving of consideration for this singular honor.
Speaking of intangibles, the fourth player I'll cut is Shay Doron. Before I look at her on court accomplishments as well as those on court intangibles, I will say that Doron may have been the most important recruit of the Brenda Frese era. Doron was one of the most highly sought after guards in the country as a high school senior. I don't think it's outrageous to say that her commitment provided Frese and Maryland immediate legitimacy opened the door for the classes that followed and that include at least three and possibly four players still on the list.
What did she do on the court? Well, Doron's name is all over the Maryland record book. Scoring, assists, steals, field goals made, free throws made, and so on. Almost anywhere you look, you're likely to find her name and I'd bet if someone kept a stat on charges taken, Shay would be the all-time leader. From an outsider's perspective, Doron looked like the glue that cohered the national championship team. Try and quantify that. And as for some of those other intangibles, I'll refer you to Key Moment number 5 in my article about Brenda Frese's top win at Maryland and the four minutes of play I called Doron Domination.
The starting five
We started at nine. Now you have my starting five - Vicky Bullett, Marissa Coleman, Crystal Langhorne, Alyssa Thomas, and Kristi Toliver. Am I beginning to feel like a judge on (insert your favorite talent show here)? You bet. From here, the elimination process gets even tougher. I'll give you all a day or two to think about it. Stay tuned.