The shot clock strikes zero. Juan Dixon throws the ball up in the air in pure celebration. And then the confetti falls.
Anthony Cowan Jr. watched the 2002 National Championship over and over, soaking in Dixon highlights on his iPad through middle and high school. The device was meant for taking notes, but the young guard was hooked by the Terp’s play.
Then when he got on the court, Cowan would pretend to be him, trying to imitate that smooth jump shot.
“I just love how he scored. I love his mentality, his tenacity when he played,” Cowan said. ”He’s always been one of my favorites.”
Back then, he admired guys like Dixon and Steve Blake, how they brought the program to its greatest feat. And Steve Francis, who helped put the program in position to do so. But he was merely pretending, doing so himself may have been a dream, but it was far in the distance.
These days, it feels closer and closer, the hunger and desire growing.
As he lies on the baseline of Xfinity Center to stretch before each practice, Cowan finds himself staring up at the rafters. On Tuesday, he counted each of the nearly 20 jerseys hung up over the last 100 years. But he only saw one championship banner. So the hunger grows even more.
He can envision it in his mind as clear as day, the moment he can feel what Dixon, Blake and the 2002 Terps felt.
“They count it down, ‘three, two, one’ and all me and my teammates [are] hugging, coach running out happy. That’s all I think about, those last three seconds,” he said. “Everybody just comes out happy, excited that we actually can say that we’re champions, in any way.”
With his last year to do so before him, the desire is palpable to everyone around Cowan.
“Anthony came back to win,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “Anthony’s done a lot of things with scoring points and steals and assists. But his legacy. He wants his legacy to be winning and winning at a high level.”
The vision has been in the works for some time.
Cowan grew up in a family of Terp fans and alumni, but his father, Anthony Cowan Sr., said it was when he met Dixon at a Maryland basketball event in seventh grade that he truly developed an admiration for the greatness of the 2002 National Championship.
“Is that really him?” Cowan Sr. recalled his son asking him.
“When you see guys like Juan and you see stature-wise they’re not really super tall, you can relate to them a lot better,” Cowan Sr. said. “And I think that’s when he really started following him [and thinking], You know what, I could be a Juan Dixon or I could leave a legacy similar to Juan Dixon.”
Cowan made his mark in high school, leading St. Johns College High School to a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title in his senior season. He said he sees a pretty similar progression in his career at Maryland, building up to that one final year of glory, when it all clicks.
Cowan got a taste last year, beating Belmont in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before taking the blow of buzzer-beater loss to LSU.
The team was young and not ready for a deep run. But it came back, just as hungry as him, spending more hours in the gym this offseason than the senior has ever seen a team put in. And the depth is there too, as the summer work paid dividends and a physical freshmen class comes in.
“He believes in his team,” said his mom, Traci Skeeter-Cowan. “He likes playing with the boys. He believes in what they’re doing. It’s like a puzzle, almost in that the puzzle is finally coming together.”
Knowing the last chance for the taking was coming, he dedicated himself to personal growth this offseason. He not only improved his shot and added 10 pounds of muscle to his frame, but developed as a selfless leader for his teammates.
Sophomore guard Aaron Wiggins said he’s seen a change in the way Cowan mentors the young players on the team, specifically the freshman class. Turgeon sees Cowan trusting in the guys around him, letting the game come to him instead of trying to force it.
Having the support of some of the greats he looks up to has made all the difference in his confidence in himself and his team to capture that special moment.
First time being star stuck fr, he really did that up here Appreciate the words OG pic.twitter.com/jUqtR4gxe8— Ant Cowan Jr. (@AnthonyCowanJr) August 12, 2019
Cowan got to spend time with Francis when he came to visit College Park this summer. He was starstruck as he got to hang out with someone he had looked up to for so long. Then, he found out that the Franchise had been watching him too.
“He told me that he knew who I was before I even met him. So that really opened my eyes and really, really, really made my day,” Cowan said. “That was exciting. He just told me to keep going, he saw what I’m doing, I’m doing good things, and sees a lot more ahead of me.”
For Cowan, that vision of more ahead is filled with one goal. It’s the same one it’s always been, only now he sees the possibility of it becoming a reality.
“I want a ring,” he said. “I want something that hasn’t been done around here in a long time.”