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Maryland basketball as 'Entourage' – a comprehensive guide

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Finally, we bring you answers to a decade-old question: If the University of Maryland men's basketball program were actually an HBO series about four friends making it in Hollywood, who would be whom?

Just Steve Francis, Chris Wilcox, Juan Dixon, Steve Blake and Gary Williams walking.
Just Steve Francis, Chris Wilcox, Juan Dixon, Steve Blake and Gary Williams walking.
FaceInHole

The Entourage movie is coming out on June 3. If you're a fun person who likes to be entertained, this is something of a holiday. Entourage hit airwaves on HBO on July 18, 2004 and had an eight-season run that ended in 2011. I, your faithful correspondent on this important dispatch, was 10 years old when the show premiered – so thus I was robbed of an opportunity to experience this spine-tingling, heartstring-tugging cinematic masterpiece until around the time it went off the air. The advent of TV-everywhere technology enabled me to tear through all 96 episodes in about a month. It was the kind of love at first sight I figure I'll tell my kids about someday.

I mean, what's not to like about Entourage? To be fair, a few things. Its characters are sometimes virulently homophobic and sexist, and the series has a handful of plot inconsistencies that run beyond what you might expect over that many hours of television. But Entourage is still loads of fun, because it provides a great look at what every person wants. And that's camaraderie – a group of friends who have everything they could ever want in a glitzy, Hollywood sort of way but really don't need any of it, except for each other. These are the boys, and they're always the boys whether their movie-star moneymaker is on top of the film world or getting punched out by Eminem in a cocaine-fuled brouhaha.

"What does this have to do with Maryland athletics, the stated topical focus of this website?" you're doubtlessly asking.

To which I respond, "What doesn't it?"

Terps as Entourage characters

Entourage is about friendship, but it's more nominally about four East Coasters who reach the pinnacle of their own little world with the help of an experienced, guiding hand. If you don't see some of these parallels, you're tragically ignorant of America's basic tenets of camaraderie and group dynamics. So we should all be on the same page.

Juan Dixon as Vincent Chase

Entourage does not have a single protagonist, but it clearly has a leading man without whom its premise does not work. The Maryland basketball team that won a national championship had a cast of vital characters, but it probably wouldn't have won everything without its scoring guard and biggest star.

Dixon and Chase had fairly similar career trajectories, when you get down to it. Think about this: Vinny came from relative anonymity in Queens, N.Y., and only became a star after an agent found him in a Mentos commercial and eventually led him to star next to Jessica Alba in the terrific Head On. Dixon, too, was not always thought to be a star. A Baltimore native, he came to Maryland amid mild fanfare and was just a role player at first. And then, like with Chase, his career took off.

Chase starred in James Cameron's Aquaman – the highest-grossing film of all-time on an opening weekend, mind you – before he nearly destroyed his career with a drab performance as Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar in the biopic Medellin. Eventually, Chase got back on top with a bravura showing as Nick Carraway in a Martin Scorcese adaptation of The Great Gatsby, and he's now sliding into the director's chair in the upcoming film.

Dixon's first year at Maryland, when he averaged 7 points and shot 44 percent from the field, was a solid introduction. Think of it like Queens Boulevard, a classy but understated performance where Chase earned a Sundance Film Festival nod and announced himself as a forced to be reckoned with. The end of Dixon's Maryland career was definitely Aquaman – a loud, booming success – and his NBA career was more Medellin, obviously.

But Dixon has joined Maryland's coaching staff and become, by all accounts, a positive influence on the program since his playing days ended. Vince would definitely approve of an arc like that.

Steve Blake as Eric Murphy

If Vinny is the president, "E," as friends call him, is his dutiful chief of staff. To that end, as Dixon was the point atop the Maryland basketball skyscraper in the early 2000s, Blake was the foundation. He was the calm, level-headed point guard who didn't have much of a pedigree, much like Eric went from managing a Sbarro in New York to managing a multimillion-dollar movie star's career in a matter of months.

While Vinny and the rest of the Entourage boys chase women ceaselessly, Eric is more of a relationship guy. He's had the occasional fling (NSFW) – just as Blake sometimes found himself in the spotlight in College Park. But at the end of the day, Eric is generally second fiddle to Vinny. You can average 8 points and 7 assists and be a perfectly good talent manager, but it's hard to fill the silver screen yourself with a line like that.

Also, Eric sort of, kind of, wound up with the lovely Sloan McQuewick, which is sort of, kind of, like Blake winding up having a longer NBA career than the rest of his Maryland teammates.

Gary Williams as Ari Gold

Ah, to be a middle-aged, successful professional staking your career on the success of 20-something men. Does this fist pump – from an episode in Entourage's second season – remind you of anybody?

gold pump

Talent agent Gold – played by the exquisite Jeremy Piven – met Vince sometime in the very early 2000s and stewarded him through the perils and pitfalls of the movie business until he hit pay-dirt. I'd like to think Williams played a similar role with Dixon, as he helped him evolve into one of the best players in recent college hoops history.

Ari is sometimes a tough nut to crack. He's not always especially friendly, and he shares a reputation with Williams for being work-oriented and not particularly chummy. But the irascible Gold is a family man at heart, quitting his day job as the most powerful agent in movie industry history to win back his wife in the series finale. Williams shares this commitment to Maryland in an inverse sort of way, we'd have to imagine.

The university still pays Williams $428,644.80 per year, The Diamondback reports. That's not Ari Gold money, but it's close enough.

Steve Francis as Johnny "Drama" Chase

Francis is a little bit older than the rest of the players featured here, just like Drama – Vince's half-brother from New York – is by far the oldest member of the gang in the show. Drama was reasonably promising early in his career and had a decent run on the midlevel science-fiction show Vikingquest. Both have had issues with the aging process.

Really, though, the Drama-Francis comparison comes down to something much deeper, an enduring quality rooted deeply in the human spirit – perseverance. Drama has a perpetually hard time booking acting jobs, but he ultimately finds his way onto the NBC drama Five Towns and, later, spearheads an animated series, Johnny's Bananas, with hotshot director Billy Walsh. Francis had to fight through a few injury-plagued seasons during his NBA career, but he still put together a respectable body of work.

Francis also took 126 technical fouls as a professional. Were he a basketballer, Drama might have taken even more than that.

Chris Wilcox as Turtle

In a sense, Salvatore "Turtle" Assante is the soft underbelly of Entourage's machismo. He's tough, certainly – a ballcap-donning, jumpsuit-wrapped son of New York who does whatever Vinny and the squad require, whether it's walking the house guard dog or "boinking" (highly NSFW) in service of another entourage member's gambling habit. In plenty of ways beyond just their physiques, Wilcox was Turtle to Maryland basketball. He was a voracious rebounder and, like Turtle, not scared to mix it up physically when opponents misbehaved.

Wilcox also spent a season with the Knicks. Turtle, of course, is a tried and true New York sportsman and sports fan, who regularly solicits the city's finest athletes for investments in Italian restaurant ventures. He loves the Knicks:

The movie comes out Wednesday. I, for one, am prepared to give Warner Bros. the $10.50 it so richly deserves.