The Top Terp Tournament keeps rolling on, with D.J. Strawberry's Cinderella story meeting an unfortunate end at the hands of Juan Dixon and Jordan Williams currently suffering a near shut-out against Steve Blake (should've seen that one coming, in retrospect).
Moving down the bracket, the next match-up is the #4 vs. #13. Before revealing the contestants, another reminder: Gary-only players are included. Perhaps next year we'll do a Lefty-inclusive, 64-player bracket, but that's too much for the moment.
Anyway, drumroll please:
The #4 Seed: #42, Walt Williams, G/F, 1988-1992
Gasp, I know. I'm assuming that the revelation of Walt Williams as the #4 seed - as opposed to #3 or even #2 - will result in a fair amount of bickering. And, to be honest, I have no retort for those who say he should be higher. In truth, the margin between #3 and #4 was razor thin; it truly could've gone either way. It ultimately went this way. But this isn't about why Walt isn't #3; it's about why he's #4. It's not hyperbole to say that Williams saved the program from irrelevance. That irrelevance may have been temporary, but it would've been there all the same, and because of Walt it - and a significantly heftier rebuilding period - wasn't.
When Gary Williams inherited the Maryland program in '89, he inherited a team in shambles and a program under sanctions. If you think Mark Turgeon has it bad - and he does - the current situation doesn't touch what Gary had. But it would've been significantly worse if one Walt Williams, a 6-8 point forward from Temple Hills, had bolted. Instead, he stayed, and became the first legend of the Gary Williams era.
He could play anywhere on the floor from point guard to power forward, and - playing on dilapidated squads (with the obvious exception of Tony Massenburg) - he often did. His sophomore year was solid, but he saw his breakout season in '90-'91, his junior year, when he started 14 games and averaged 18.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game, despite missing six weeks in the middle of the season with a broken leg.
But he surpassed all expectations in his sensational senior campaign, in which he averaged an incredible 26.8 ppg and scored at least 30 points in seven straight games - two records which Terp greats like Juan Dixon and Joe Smith have never approached. His absurd senior year garnered him 2nd Team All-American honors - the first Terp to do so since Bias. The Wizard possessed a wonderfully versatile offensive arsenal, from knocking down 3s to the odd post move, and his size made him a match-up nightmare. On a stronger team, he'd have topped 5 assists per game with regularity, too.
Remarkably, despite the fantastic senior season enjoyed by Williams, the Terrapins had a losing record, a telling sign of how much damage the sanctions had on the program and of the team surrounding Williams. But Williams kept them relevant in a time when it would've been very easy for them to fall off the map. Statistically, he probably had the best single season of any player in the Gary Williams era, but what really stands out about the Wizard is what his entire career meant to the program as a whole.
(And don't forget about the high socks!)
The #13 Seed: #44, Terence Morris, PF, 1997-2001
Like many of the early round match-ups, this is like sending a lamb to slaughter. But that shouldn't overshadow the great career Terence Morris had under Gary. T-Mo, a 6-8 power forward who could step out and knock down jumpers, appeared to be an emerging superstar after his sophomore year, during which he averaged 15.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, helping Steve Francis captain the team to a Sweet 16 appearance and capturing 1st Team All-ACC honors. He seemed a sure-fire lottery pick if he wanted to go to the NBA, but he instead decided to stick around.
His junior year was solid, and he again garnered All-ACC honors (2nd team this time). Again, he had the option of heading to the NBA to become a lottery selection, but he stayed in College Park once again, this time to his own harm. With Lonny Baxter and Juan Dixon both becoming full-fledged stars, Morris took a back-seat in his senior year, averaging just 12.2 ppg and falling into the 2nd round of the NBA Draft. (Jordan haters may have something to chew on now.) But at least the team enjoyed unprecedented success: in T-Mo's final season, with the senior starting every game along the way, the Terrapins made their first Final Four appearance. (And that's all we're gonna say about that.)
In terms of physical talent, Morris is one of the best in the bracket. His size and skill was a rare combination, and his sophomore year was every bit as good as Chris Wilcox's or Jordan Williams'. But it says much about Morris that, despite his obvious skill, he was never once the star attraction. Steve Francis was the opponent's main concern in T-Mo's fantastic sophomore year. Then Dixon and Baxter arrived on the scene, surpassing him in his junior season.
Morris lacked the ego, the fire, the Juan Dixon-ness, and Terence never became The Man. That holds him back in these seedings as much as anything. Even still, his pure talent was obvious, and his four years in the program showed a rare dedication to the team. The stats show as much: despite never having a Wizard-like year, he's 11th all-time (6th under Gary) in points scored, 5th all-time (2nd under Gary) in rebounds, and 2nd all-time (1st under Gary) in blocked shots.
And, yes, for the record I'd actually love to see these two play one-on-one. The result there would almost certainly be closer than this poll.