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Maryland men’s basketball bracket madness (Sweet 16)

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The field is down to 16 all-time Terps. Here are their stories as you make your choices.

University of Massachusetts v UNLV Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images

Welcome back to bracket season.

It’s the third round of Testudo Times’ quest to determine the greatest Maryland basketball player of all time through a 64-player bracket. We started last week and held second-round voting earlier this week. Thanks to everyone who’s voted and joined in on the fun.

Now it’s time for the Sweet 16, and the longest article I’ve ever written.

Since the field is starting to shrink, I thought I’d try something different for this round and go more in-depth on the players still standing. This was inspired partly by being quarantined in my house and partly by Joe Posnanski’s incredible series on baseball’s best 100 players in The Athletic. It took me perhaps a little too long to realize how ambitious my undertaking was. That’s why this piece is out a little later in the day, but I hope it’s worth it.

Round 2 results

Much like this tournament’s opening round, the Round of 32 was primarily filled with blowouts. Only four of the 16 matchups were closer than 80-20, and none were closer than 60-40. I thought maybe Ernie Graham would give Anthony Cowan Jr. a run or Johnny Rhodes could take down Melo Trimble, but the voting collective had other ideas. Keith Booth and Steve Francis split the two polls, with Booth’s advantage on the site carrying him through.

Here are the full second-round bracket results.

WINNER Total Votes Site Twitter LOSER Total Votes Site Twitter
WINNER Total Votes Site Twitter LOSER Total Votes Site Twitter
Len Bias 98.7% 1,408 908 (99.2%) 500 (98.6%) Derrick Lewis 1.3% 14 7 (0.8%) 7 (1.4%)
Anthony Cowan Jr. 74.0% 1,048 636 (69.1%) 412 (82.9%) Ernest Graham 26.0% 369 284 (30.9%) 85 (17.1%)
Walt Williams 96.7% 1,333 903 (98.2%) 430 (93.7%) Laron Profit 3.3% 46 17 (1.8%) 29 (6.3%)
Albert King 90.5% 1,203 878 (95.7%) 325 (78.7%) Tony Massenburg 9.5% 127 39 (4.3%) 88 (21.3%)
Joe Smith 92.5% 1,296 886 (96.6%) 410 (84.7%) Chris Wilcox 7.5% 105 31 (3.4%) 74 (15.3%)
Adrian Branch 78.1% 1,079 717 (78.4%) 362 (77.5%) Terence Morris 27.9% 303 198 (21.6%) 105 (22.5%)
Tom McMillen 77.5% 1,165 853 (92.1%) 312 (54.1%) Jake Layman 22.5% 338 73 (7.9%) 265 (45.9%)
Greivis Vasquez 88.4% 1,311 788 (85.3%) 523 (93.4%) Gene Shue 11.6% 172 135 (14.7%) 37 (6.6%)
Juan Dixon 95.4% 1,309 906 (97.9%) 403 (90.2%) Jalen Smith 4.6% 63 19 (2.1%) 44 (9.8%)
Melo Trimble 65.3% 888 554 (60.0%) 334 (76.8%) Johnny Rhodes 34.7% 471 370 (40.0%) 101 (23.2%)
Buck Williams 81.6% 1,089 836 (91.5%) 253 (60.1%) Kevin Huerter 18.4% 246 78 (8.5%) 168 (39.9%)
Len Elmore 96.3% 1,250 877 (96.7%) 373 (95.4%) Brad Davis 3.7% 48 30 (3.3%) 18 (4.6%)
John Lucas 97.5% 1,280 889 (97.9%) 391 (96.5%) Will Hetzel 2.5% 33 19 (2.1%) 14 (3.5%)
Keith Booth 61.8% 830 645 (70.7%) 185 (42.9%) Steve Francis 38.2% 513 267 (29.3%) 246 (57.1%)
Steve Blake 95.5% 1,332 865 (95.2%) 467 (96.1%) Keith Gatlin 4.5% 63 44 (4.8%) 19 (3.9%)
Lonny Baxter 91.7% 1,204 874 (96.1%) 360 (82.9%) John Gilchrist 8.3% 109 35 (3.9%) 74 (17.1%)

The bracket

The matchups

Here comes a flurry of tough choices. You might see your two favorite Terps of all time matched up against each other here and refuse to pick one. I’ve added a couple paragraphs to provide a snapshot of each guy, and I hope you enjoy those words in and of themselves.

Special thanks to Derrick Lewis, Don Markus and Patrick Stevens for taking the time to tell stories about these greats the last couple days. I’ll be working to add more voices as we move forward — for the players that keep advancing, I know there will be plenty of angles to explore.

As always, make sure you’re viewing this in a browser so the polls show up. Here we go.

LEN BIAS (1982-86)
Started: 3 years (19.1 pts, 6.1 rebs, 1.4 asts, 54.4% FG)
Best season: 1985-86 (senior) — 23.2 pts, 7.0 rebs, 54.4% FG
Career totals: 2,149 points (3rd), 745 rebounds (12th), 4,032 minutes (3rd)
Awards: 2x ACC POY (1985, 1986), 2x consensus All-American (first team 1986, second team 1985), 2x All-ACC First Team, 1984 ACC Tournament MVP, 2x All-ACC Tournament (1984, 1986)

Bias has, predictably, steamrolled through this bracket so far. He earned 98.9 percent of votes against Rodney Elliott in the opening round and was just as dominant against former teammate Derrick Lewis in the Round of 32. Lewis was a great sport about his tough draw — he joked with me over the phone that the majority of his votes on the site were from family members, and he viewed polling at two percent on Twitter as a win.

Lewis remembers Bias and his former running mate Adrian Branch as “comedians,” recalling a story where they offered him a ride to practice but drove off before Lewis could get in the car. But the Terps’ all-time leading shot blocker recalls Bias’ work ethic most of all. He practiced like he was playing in a Final Four contest, because he needed to in order for his game to reach the next level.

Maryland went just 19-14 in Bias’ senior season — with Branch gone, the Terps simply didn’t have the depth to contend in the ACC. Bias scored 23.2 points a night; only one teammate, Keith Gatlin, averaged double figures. His singular brilliance was a show unlike anything else in the sport. Those with front-row seats remain honored to have witnessed it.

“They just double and triple teamed him, and he still averaged 20-plus points a game. It was just crazy,” Lewis said. “We’re gonna go over here, we’re gonna set this double screen, myself and Speedy Jones would split and then that side was free for Lenny to do what he was gonna do. And he averaged 23 points a game ... playing with double and triple teams every night.”

Conversations about Bias always have an air of disbelief to them. He did things nobody else did on a basketball court, and his death altered innumerable lives. Even Lewis can’t say for sure what his teammate would have become, but he can certainly speak in amazement of what Bias was.

ANTHONY COWAN JR. (2016-20)
Started: 4 years (14.5 pts, 4.5 asts, 3.9 rebs, 1.1 stls)
Best season: 2019-20 (senior) — 16.3 pts, 4.7 asts, 3.6 rebs
Career totals: 130 starts (2nd), 1,881 points (7th), 584 assists (5th), 579 made free throws (1st)
Awards: All-Big Ten First Team (2020), All-Big Ten Second Team (2019)
Notes: No 2020 postseason due to COVID-19 pandemic

After Cowan led Maryland on a 14-0 closing run to stun Michigan State in East Lansing Feb. 15, head coach Mark Turgeon was happy to get one over on the proverbial “they” — the undefined group of critics who didn’t believe in his 6’0 point guard out of Bowie.

This recounting is not entirely accurate — Cowan was a top-100 prospect when he committed and ultimately ranked 62nd in the 247Sports Composite’s 2016 class rankings. But Maryland offered him all the way back in 2013, when he was an undersized and relatively unheralded sophomore. And that’s really the story of his career — Cowan didn’t have the measurables of some or the flair of others, but he was always someone worth believing in.

He was worth believing in as a freshman, when he started all 33 games and split lead guard duties with Melo Trimble. He was worth believing in as a sophomore, when Maryland often needed him for all 40 minutes just to keep games competitive. He was worth believing in as a junior, helping lead a young team to the NCAA Tournament. And he was worth believing in as a senior, carrying Maryland through the Orlando Invitational and saving the day against Illinois and sinking one clutch free throw after another in a slew of Big Ten nail-biters.

But those final few minutes at Michigan State will stand as Cowan’s signature moment. With three minutes remaining, he was 2-of-8 from the floor and hadn’t scored in the second half. But he followed up a Jalen Smith three with a triple of his own to make it a one-point game, then gave Maryland the lead with a three, then drained another one for good measure. In a raucous environment against reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston and the Spartans, Cowan scored the game’s final 11 points.

His career came to an end in uniquely heartbreaking fashion — a swelling pandemic forced cancellation of the postseason just as it began. The Terps didn’t play a postseason game, and Cowan never got that final chance to chase a national title. But he cut down nets on his senior day because Maryland clinched a share of the Big Ten regular-season title by beating Michigan. That moment, and that hug with Turgeon, was a four-year career in the making.

Poll

Sweet 16: Len Bias vs. Anthony Cowan Jr.

This poll is closed

  • 94%
    Len Bias
    (681 votes)
  • 5%
    Anthony Cowan Jr.
    (39 votes)
720 votes total Vote Now

WALT WILLIAMS (1988-92)
Started: 3 years (19.2 pts, 4.9 rebs, 4.4 asts, 1.8 stls)
Best season: 1991-92 (senior) — 26.8 pts, 5.6 rebs, 3.6 asts, 2.1 stls)
Career totals: 1,704 points (13th), 410 assists (14th), 175 steals (9th)
Awards: 1992 All-ACC First Team, 1992 consensus All-American Second Team

Gary Williams isn’t shy to admit that if it weren’t for Walt Williams, he might not have lasted long as Maryland basketball’s head coach. The player who had enrolled at Maryland because he admired Len Bias had the option to leave after his sophomore season, as the NCAA had announced a two-year postseason ban and a one-year television ban due to violations from the Bob Wade era. The Terps were losing one top player, Tony Massenburg, to graduation, while center Jerrod Mustaf turned pro. But Walt Williams stayed.

Walt led Maryland to a 16-12 record after all that roster turnover, and the Terps went just 14-15 his senior year. But Williams’ 1991-92 season is arguably the most significant individual season in program history. His 26.8 points per game shattered the school record. He scored 30 points in seven straight contests. As Patrick Stevens, who most recently covered the Terps for The Athletic, told me, “that senior season of his was appointment television even if Maryland itself wasn’t.”

Williams’ individual prowess was enough to keep Maryland competitive against teams it had no business competing with. The Terps came within two points of beating eventual national champion Duke on the road. Maryland knocked off then-No. 10 North Carolina at home. It’s also worth noting that Williams was a favorite player of a high school star named Joe Smith, who enrolled two seasons later and helped put Maryland back on the map.

Walt Williams didn’t even attend an NCAA Tournament game in person until 2016, when he was on Maryland’s radio broadcast team. It’s certainly not normal for a college player to be so memorable with no postseason legacy; that’s why many players facing Williams’ 1990 conundrum would have left for greener pastures. The Wizard was different, though. And his magic made people believe in the Terps again.

ALBERT KING (1977-81)
Started: 4 years (17.4 pts, 6.1 rebs, 2.6 asts)
Best season: 1979-80 (junior) — 21.7 pts, 6.7 rebs, 2.8 asts, 1.4 stls
Career totals: 2,058 points (4th), 715 rebounds (14th), 862 field goals (T-1st)
Awards: 1980 ACC POY, 1980 consensus All-American Second Team, 2x All-ACC (first team 1980, second team 1981), 2x All-ACC Tournament First Team (1980, 1981), 1980 ACC Tournament MVP

It’s never easy being the younger sibling.

In 1977, when Albert King enrolled at Maryland, his older brother Bernard had just been taken seventh overall in the NBA Draft that summer. Bernard was a superstar at Tennessee, and Albert had become the nation’s biggest high school star in his own right. Maryland fans, who had quickly grown accustomed to star-studded Lefty Driesell teams, expected greatness.

It took time. Albert averaged 13.6 points as a freshman and 15.9 as a sophomore, and Maryland went 15-13 and 19-11 those two seasons. The breakout came in 1979-80, when King averaged 21.7 points and 6.7 rebounds and won ACC Player of the Year. He also won MVP honors at the ACC Tournament even though Maryland fell by one to Duke in the title game — 40 years later, he remains the last player to accomplish that feat.

Maryland reached the NCAA regional semifinals in 1980 and the second round in 1981. The absence of a deep postseason run makes it easy to forget how talented these teams were. King and Buck Williams are still alive in this bracket. You could argue Ernie Graham should be, too, and maybe Greg Manning makes the second round with a more favorable matchup. The ACC was tough and getting tougher, making it difficult for Maryland’s stars to separate themselves. But they were stars nonetheless.

“The players were the standard in the area,” said Derrick Lewis, who was a high schooler at the time. “You’re on the playground and somebody says, ‘Oh, I’m Albert King.’ You know, you always wanted to be someone. You want to try and be Dr. J [Julius Erving, then of the 76ers] — they only had one Dr. J, somebody would claim him, and then Albert King was the next guy everybody wanted to be on the playground.”

Poll

Sweet 16: Walt Williams vs. Albert King

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    Walt Williams
    (456 votes)
  • 35%
    Albert King
    (255 votes)
711 votes total Vote Now

JOE SMITH (1993-95)
Started: 2 years (20.2 pts, 10.7 rebs, 3.0 blks, 1.5 stls)
Best season: 1994-95 (sophomore) — 20.8 pts, 10.6 rebs, 2.9 blks, 1.5 stls
Career totals: 20.2 ppg (2nd), 10.7 rpg (3rd), 3.0 bpg (1st), 1,290 points (29th), 683 rebounds (17th), 190 blocks (7th)
Awards: 1995 Naismith Award, Rupp Trophy & AP National POY, 1995 consensus All-American First Team, 2x All-ACC First Team, 1995 ACC POY

The double-edged sword of a great college basketball player is that he might be too good to stay. Maryland fans have seen plenty of this — just since 2016, seven Terps have turned pro with eligibility remaining.

Joe Smith spent just two years in College Park, but that’s all the time he needed to leave a lasting legacy. He’s still Maryland’s only National Player of the Year. He’s second, third and first in points, rebounds and blocks per game, respectively. If you doubled his career totals (a very rough estimation of what he would’ve produced in two extra years), he’d be at 2,580 points, 1,366 boards and 380 blocks. All would be school records by a landslide.

This leaves Smith in a fascinating position as we move forward in this bracket. Of the 16 players remaining, 11 played four years of college basketball, two played three before turning pro and two played three because the NCAA didn’t allow freshmen to play once upon a time. All the other one- and two-year stars (Steve Francis, Jalen Smith, Chris Wilcox, etc.) have been eliminated. But they weren’t Joe Smith. And it’s possible no Terp will equal his singular brilliance again.

ADRIAN BRANCH (1981-85)
Started: 4 years (16.4 pts, 4.4 rebs, 2.9 asts)
Best season: 1984-85 (senior) — 18.1 pts, 4.9 rebs, 2.2 asts, 1.2 stls
Career totals: 2,017 points (5th), 292 assists (25th), 546 rebounds (38th), 120 starts (6th)
Awards: 2x All-ACC Second Team (1983, 1985), All-ACC Tournament First Team (1984), NCAA Tournament All-Region (1985)

College basketball didn’t have a three-point line until the 1986-87 season. Adrian Branch just missed out.

The 6’7 guard was a scorer in all forms of the word. He could create his own shot, finish in traffic and connect from distance. That last skill would have had significantly greater value two years after Branch’s graduation, let alone in today’s game.

“I think it would’ve made him an even better player because it would have opened it up so much more for him,” Derrick Lewis said. “He definitely had the range to shoot from the three-point line. Even when they introduced it my junior year [1986-87], it was closer than what it is now. It was 19 feet, it was inside the top of the key. And that was well inside Adrian’s range.”

Even so, Branch graduated as Maryland’s second-leading scorer with 2,017 points, trailing only King. Bias passed him the following year, and Juan Dixon and Greivis Vasquez currently sit Nos. 1 and 2 on that list. Even with Bias emerging as a star late in Branch’s career, the DeMatha product was always a reliable bucket. And in this sport, there are few better things a player can be.

Poll

Sweet 16: Joe Smith vs. Adrian Branch

This poll is closed

  • 87%
    Joe Smith
    (625 votes)
  • 12%
    Adrian Branch
    (87 votes)
712 votes total Vote Now

TOM McMILLEN (1971-74)
Started: 3 years (20.5 pts, 9.8 rebs, 55.5% FG)
Best season: 1972-73 (junior) — 21.2 pts, 9.8 rebs, 58.5% FG
Career totals: 20.5 ppg (1st), 9.8 rpg (6th), 1,807 points (9th), 859 rebounds (8th)
Awards: 1972 NIT MVP, 3x All-ACC (first team 1972-73, second team 1974), 3x All-ACC Tournament First Team, 1973 consensus All-American Second Team

College sports — and sports in general, really — don’t have many sure things. Extreme likelihoods, sure, but any game can be lost and any player can hit a rough patch and any coach can fall out of favor. Recruiting is the crapshoot of crapshoots, and this was especially true before there was a viable industry revolving around it.

If there’s ever been a sure thing at this level, it was Tom McMillen.

He was the best high school basketball player in the country. There aren’t rankings to verify this — everyone just knew. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the second high school athlete to ever receive that honor (and in those days, it was a serious honor). McMillen averaged 47 points as a senior. He was 6’11 with the agility of a guard but also a school valedictorian and aspiring doctor. West Virginia introduced him to sitting president Lyndon Johnson as a recruiting tactic, and that’s far from the craziest thing an aspiring suitor did.

Even though McMillen’s brother Jay had starred at Maryland, new Terps coach Lefty Driesell had to battle an entire nation of recruiters. But he got his man. The phrase born out of this wooing remains attached to Driesell and Maryland to this day. Jay McMillen told him that landing Tom could make Maryland “the UCLA of the East.”

NCAA rules still prohibited freshmen from playing in those days — the bylaws changed in 1972, two years after it would have benefited McMillen. He was beyond ready, of course. He averaged 20.6 points and 9.6 rebounds and was First Team All-ACC his first season, and his next two years were almost carbon copies. McMillen remains Maryland’s career scoring average leader 36 years after leaving campus, and he’s still top-10 in total points and rebounds without that fourth year.

He delayed his NBA career to be a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, then spent 11 seasons in the league, then served in Congress, later joined the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents and now advocates for athletic directors at FBS schools. You or I might need 10 lifetimes to check all these boxes. Tom McMillen always seemed destined to do it in one.

GREIVIS VASQUEZ (2006-10)
Started: 4 years (16.0 pts, 5.7 asts, 4.8 rebs, 1.4 stls)
Best season: 2009-10 (senior) — 19.6 pts, 6.3 asts, 4.6 rebs, 1.7 stls
Career totals: 2,171 points (2nd), 772 assists (2nd), 5.7 apg (2nd), 191 steals (7th)
Awards: 2010 ACC POY, 2010 Cousy Award, 2010 consensus All-American Second Team, 3x All-ACC (first team 2010, second team 2008-09), 2009 All-ACC Tournament Second Team Notes: Averaged 18.0 pts, 6.0 asts, 5.2 rebs, 1.5 stls across last three seasons

I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between star athletes and fan bases of the teams they play for. There’s nothing else like it in the world — other celebrities have fan bases unique to themselves, while athletes often have to learn to understand fans of their team, and vice versa.

Early in his career, Greivis Vasquez was easy to misunderstand. The Venezuela native played the game with a passion that manifested itself in different ways than anybody was used to. He accentuated a flashy playing style with a spicy collection of celebrations. And for someone who had his fair share of low notes — he was an inefficient shooter who averaged 3.5 turnovers his first two years — the antics didn’t always resonate.

“I think people, even the fans at Maryland, just thought he was sort of like a showboat,” said Don Markus, the longtime Terps reporter for the Baltimore Sun. “I always said that I misinterpreted his passion for ego.”

It was as Vasquez’s career progressed that fans grew to embrace him. The numbers were there starting with his sophomore year — he averaged 17 points then and 17.5 as a junior. But everything reached a crescendo in 2009-10, when the senior Vasquez blossomed into the ACC Player of the Year on a Maryland team that tied for first place in the league. The shimmy was something to celebrate rather than shame. Terp fans knew Vasquez was on their side, and they rode with him.

That’s what made the last-second NCAA Tournament loss against Michigan State — I’d link to it, but I’m sure you don’t want to watch that right now — so heartbreaking. Maryland was a No. 4 seed in a region where top overall seed Kansas had been knocked off, so the chance at a serious run was there. The fan base had fallen in love with Vasquez and wanted to see him be a part of that. It didn’t happen, but even the heartbreak is a shared feeling to this day.

This whole beautiful roller coaster of a relationship only happens in sports. It only happens with a certain breed of player. It only happens with someone like Greivis Vasquez.

Poll

Sweet 16: Tom McMillen vs. Greivis Vasquez

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    Tom McMillen
    (388 votes)
  • 45%
    Greivis Vasquez
    (325 votes)
713 votes total Vote Now

JUAN DIXON (1998-2002)
Started: 3 years (18.9 pts, 4.8 rebs, 3.0 asts, 2.6 stls)
Best season: 2001-02 (senior) — 20.4 pts, 4.6 rebs, 2.9 asts, 2.6 s
Career totals: 2,269 points (1st), 141 games (T-1st), 333 steals (2nd), 2.4 spg (2nd), 371 assists (15th)
Awards: 2002 NCAA Tournament MOP, 2002 ACC POY, 2002 consensus All-American First Team, 3x All-ACC First Team (2000-02), 3x ACC All-Defense (2000-02), 2x NCAA Tournament All-Region (2001, 2002)

The Juan Dixon origin story sounds like it should be from a novel. Gary Williams says he discovered Dixon at an AAU tournament in Georgia, where he saw the scrawny guard dive for a loose ball with two minutes left and his team down by 20 points. Dixon’s parents were both heroin addicts and died before he was 17. He was a top scorer at Calvert Hall in Towson, Maryland, but nothing about his 6’3, 145-pound frame suggested he’d be a college star.

It’s a wonder what time and opportunity can do. Dixon redshirted his first season and spent another year in the shadow of Steve Francis, who spent one year with the Terps after becoming a JuCo star and eventually went second in the 1999 NBA Draft. Dixon became a fixture in the lineup his sophomore year and, suddenly, was one of the best players in the league he was supposedly too small to play in. He averaged 18 points that year, 18.2 the next and 20.4 as a senior.

Juan Dixon had cemented himself as an all-time Terp well before the spring of 2002. He had starred on the program’s first-ever Final Four team the year prior. He had just won ACC Player of the Year. But in the 2002 NCAA Tournament, Dixon ascended to a higher state of consciousness. In six games, he averaged 25.8 points and shot .542/.512/.879. Maryland won all six games to capture its only national title. In six games, Juan Dixon went from memorable to immortal.

Dixon has had a tattoo on his left arm since high school that reads, “Only the Strong Survive.” He survived, alright.

MELO TRIMBLE (2014-17)
Started: 3 years (15.9 pts, 3.9 asts, 3.7 rebs, 1.2 stls)
Best season: 2014-15 (freshman) — 16.2 pts, 3.0 asts, 3.9 rebs, 41.2% 3P, 86.3% FT
Career totals: 1,658 points (14th), 402 assists (14th), 503 free throws (3rd)
Awards: 3x All-Big Ten First Team, 2015 Big Ten All-Freshman

The first Maryland men’s basketball game I ever covered for Testudo Times was in November 2016. The Terps were playing Oklahoma State, and for most of the night, they were losing. Maryland trailed for 34 minutes and by as many as 12. But the home team had Melo Trimble, and the other team didn’t. He drove to the hoop, drew a foul and made two free throws with 9.4 seconds left. The Terps won by one.

You probably forgot about that game. You probably forgot about a lot of Melo Trimble games and moments. There were so many. The very next week, he made a layup with 6.6 seconds left against Kansas State for another one-point Maryland win. It was routine. There was the ankle-breaker against Michigan State when he was a freshman, the buzzer-beater at Wisconsin when he was a sophomore and, arguably most memorable of all, the walk-off three in his final home game.

Trimble grew up watching Maryland. He remembered the 2002 title, knew the program’s history and said he got chills attending games. So even as he became a four-star combo guard with his choice of college destinations, he knew he wanted to be a Terp. When he enrolled, Maryland had made just three NCAA Tournaments in 10 years and had missed the previous four. And all he did in college was earn First Team All-Big Ten honors three times, leading the Terps to three big dances.

Maybe some of those teams could have gone even further. Maybe Trimble could have stayed a fourth year and made a run at Maryland immortality. But it would feel silly asking for more. When Mark Turgeon and the Terps needed a star to choose them, Melo Trimble did. He made it cool to make that choice again. He changed Maryland.

Poll

Sweet 16: Juan Dixon vs. Melo Trimble

This poll is closed

  • 98%
    Juan Dixon
    (709 votes)
  • 1%
    Melo Trimble
    (10 votes)
719 votes total Vote Now

BUCK WILLIAMS (1978-81)
Started: 3 years (13.6 pts, 10.9 rebs, 61.5% FG)
Best season: 1980-81 (junior) — 15.5 pts, 11.7 rebs, 1.0 asts, 64.7% FG
Career totals: 61.5% FG (1st), 928 rebounds (4th), 10.9 rpg (2nd), 1,153 points (40th)
Awards: 2x All-ACC Second Team (1980, 1981), 2x All-ACC Tournament (first team 1981, second team 1980), 1979 ACC ROY

LEN ELMORE (1971-74)
Started: 3 years (11.8 pts, 12.2 rebs, 1.4 asts)
Best season: 1973-74 (senior) — 14.6 pts, 14.7 rebs, 1.7 asts, 52.5% FG
Career totals: 1,053 rebounds (1st), 12.2 rpg (1st), 1,017 points (54th)
Awards: 3x All-ACC (first team 1974, second team 1972-73), 1974 consensus All-American second team, 2x All-ACC Tournament Second Team (1972, 1974)
Notes: Still holds Maryland single-game record with 26 rebounds at Wake Forest (1974)

Williams and Elmore didn’t play together at Maryland, but they were teammates with the NBA’s New Jersey Nets from 1981-83, along with Albert King. In that spirit, and after trying unsuccessfully to capture their Terp careers individually, I thought I’d write about them together.

These two are first and second in Maryland history in rebounding average, as well as first and fourth in total boards. The Terps never needed either one to be high-volume scorers, though. Elmore was in the same freshman class as McMillen and shared the floor with John Lucas his final two years. Williams was a year behind Albert King, Ernie Graham and Greg Manning. It’s so easy to focus too much on the extraordinary scorers and forget those who change the game in other ways. That’s what these two did.

Elmore stood at 6’9 and would always match up with NC State’s 7’4 Tommy Burleson. Williams was a 6’8 power forward who shifted to center and faced the likes of Ralph Sampson (7’3) and Mike Gminski (6’11). When you’re giving up that much size in the post, you simply have to outwork your opponent. There’s no other way. Both players did, pulling down nearly 2,000 rebounds between them.

Williams has a slight edge in scoring, and his .615 career field-goal percentage towers over anyone else in program history. Elmore has the rebounding advantage, and while blocks weren’t recorded during his career, he was widely regarded as one of the best in the league. This matchup could be our closest yet.

Poll

Sweet 16: Buck Williams vs. Len Elmore

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    Buck Williams
    (315 votes)
  • 55%
    Len Elmore
    (388 votes)
703 votes total Vote Now

JOHN LUCAS (1972-76)
Started: 4 years (18.3 pts, 4.7 asts, 3.4 rebs, 52.5% FG)
Best season: 1973-74 (sophomore) — 20.1 pts, 5.7 asts, 2.9 rebs
Career totals: 2,015 points (6th), 18.3 ppg (4th), 514 assists (6th), 862 field goals (T-1st)
Awards: 2x consensus All-American First Team (1975, 1976), 3x All-ACC first team (1974-76), 3x All-ACC Tournament (first team 1973-74, second team 1975), NCAA Tournament All-Region (1975)

When the NCAA first allowed freshmen to compete in varsity sports, it was hard to know what to expect. The prevailing thought in many circles was that very few rookies would crack premier lineups in premier sports. John Lucas changed plenty of minds in a hurry.

The Durham, North Carolina, product made nine of his first 10 shots in his Maryland basketball debut in 1972. He averaged 14.2 points and 5.9 assists per game that season. Scouts instead started wondering if the premier players of that age even needed the college level in the first place.

As a sophomore, Lucas blossomed into a 20-point scorer on a star-studded team that went 23-5. Maryland was ranked No. 4 in the final AP Poll but couldn’t play in the NCAA Tournament after losing the ACC title game in triple-overtime to eventual champion NC State. The Terps made the Elite Eight the following season after the NCAA expanded its tournament field. Lucas averaged 19.5 points as a junior and 19.9 as a senior, earning First Team All-American honors both years.

Lucas was the first Terp legend to play four seasons, which allowed him to graduate as the program leader in points and assists. He eclipsed the 2,000-point barrier that would have been virtually unreachable before the rule change. Lucas was unlike anything College Park had seen before, and his contributions hold up four decades later.

KEITH BOOTH (1993-97)
Started: 4 years (14.1 pts, 7.3 rebs, 2.3 asts, 1.5 stls)
Best season: 1996-97 (senior) — 19.5 pts, 7.9 rebs, 2.6 asts, 2.0 stls
Career totals: 1,776 points (10th), 916 rebounds (6th), 296 assists (23rd), 193 steals (6th)
Awards: 2x All-ACC (first team 1997, third team 1996), All-ACC Tournament Third Team (1997)

From the moment he stepped on campus, Maryland knew what it had in Keith Booth. It had a 6’6 power forward who brought his Baltimore toughness to the post. He could get to the foul line with ease and was a ferocious rebounder on both ends. That was true when he was a freshman. It was true when he was a senior. Hell, it’s probably still true now.

“If you’re 6’6, 226, and strong as an ox, it’s not hard to imagine what sort of style that you’re going to be playing, whether it’s now or whether it was 25 years ago,” Stevens said. “That strength is what comes to mind, that willfulness, when I think of Keith Booth as a basketball player.”

Booth was the headliner of the 1993 freshman class that also included Joe Smith. The latter, of course, wasted no time establishing himself as a college superstar, but Booth was an everyday starter on a pair of NCAA Tournament teams alongside him.

When Maryland needed him to step up after Smith left for the NBA, Booth’s scoring average jumped from 10.9 points as a sophomore to 15.3 as a junior. And with four of the top five scorers graduating after the 1995-96 season, Booth shouldered an even bigger load as a senior, averaging career highs in nearly every category.

As much as any of this, Maryland fans remember Booth as the first Baltimore prospect to pledge to the Terps since Bob Wade’s resignation. Maryland signed Rodney Elliott and Dixon out of the Charm City in the following years, and the pipeline has since featured the likes of Jalen Smith and Darryl Morsell.

Poll

Sweet 16: John Lucas vs. Keith Booth

This poll is closed

  • 87%
    John Lucas
    (614 votes)
  • 12%
    Keith Booth
    (90 votes)
704 votes total Vote Now

STEVE BLAKE (1999-2003)
Started: 4 years (8.3 pts, 7.0 asts, 3.4 rebs, 1.7 stls)
Best season: 2002-03 (senior) — 11.6 pts, 7.1 asts, 3.7 rebs, 1.6 stls
Career totals: 972 assists (1st), 7.0 apg (1st), 234 steals (4th), 1,139 points (41st), 136 starts (1st)
Awards: 2x All-ACC (first team 2003, third team 2002), All-ACC Tournament Second Team (2002), ACC All-Freshman (2000)

LONNY BAXTER (1998-2002)
Started: 3 years (15.5 pts, 8.3 rebs, 1.9 blks)
Best season: 1999-2000 (sophomore) — 15.6 pts, 8.8 rebs, 2.3 blks
Career totals: 1,858 points (8th), 998 rebounds (2nd), 347 offensive rebounds (1st), 227 blocks (6th)
Awards: 3x All-ACC (first team 2000, second team 2001-02), 2x All-ACC Tournament (first team 2000, second team 2001), 2x NCAA Tournament All-Region (2001-02), 2002 NCAA All-Tournament

The point guard and the center that starred on Maryland’s two Final Four teams and lone national champion. I promise I didn’t match them up against each other on purpose.

Stevens describes Baxter, who enrolled a year before Blake, as “the big man who knew he was a big man.” At 6’8, 260 pounds, he knew his contributions would come from rebounds, blocked shots and a big enough collection of post moves. Baxter had his moments as a freshman — he went 10-of-10 from the field against North Texas in December 1998 and showed flashes in place of injured Obinna Ekezie late in the season. Then, like Dixon, he took off as a sophomore, averaging what would be career highs in points (15.6), rebounds (8.8) and blocks (2.3). He maintained that level of production for the rest of his career.

Blake’s signature individual moment — the steal-and-score against Jason Williams — serves as a microcosm of his greatness. “[It was] him sizing up a really skilled, talented opponent and unleashing his wits at just the right time to be able to get the better of him,” Stevens said.

Those wits allowed Blake to step in and run the point as a freshman with relative ease. Maryland never needed him to be a scorer — he averaged 7.0, 6.9 and 8.0 points his first three seasons — but he played the setup role exceptionally, averaging a program-record 7.2 assists for his career.

The 2002 tournament was the coronation for both players, of course. Baxter had his defining game against UConn in the Elite Eight, tossing up 29 points and nine boards while making 15-of-18 free throws (his foul shooting quietly improved throughout his career). Blake dished 11 assists in the first round and 11 more in the Final Four — it was fitting that he finished that tournament with more assists than points.

This matchup feels almost unfair — Blake and Baxter never seemed to care who was better, and that’s part of why their teams won so much. Blake did get the chance as a senior to show what he could do without Baxter or Dixon, and he helped lead Maryland to a Sweet 16. Your choice here will probably depend on who you relate to more, and that’s fine. In a way, that’s what college sports are all about.

Poll

Sweet 16: Steve Blake vs. Lonny Baxter

This poll is closed

  • 75%
    Steve Blake
    (500 votes)
  • 24%
    Lonny Baxter
    (165 votes)
665 votes total Vote Now