By Don Markus
The Baltimore Sun
2:13 PM EST, February 21, 2012
Johnny Rhodes has often been overlooked in the discussion of Maryland’s greatest all-time players. That is not surprising, since Rhodes rarely got a ton of credit even as he helped the Terps begin their turnaround under Gary Williams during the mid-1990s.
As much as Joe Smith and Keith Booth were the most celebrated players by fans and the media, and for good reason, Rhodes was just as respected by his teammates and coaches. Rhodes finished his career in College Park as one of the best all-around players in program history.
Statistically speaking, Rhodes might have been the best.
Which is why the now 38-year-old Rhodes will be honored tonight at Comcast Center by having his jersey number and name raised to the rafters before the Terps take on Miami. It comes a week after Ernie Graham had the same honored bestowed upon him.
If Graham was known for his ability to score, Rhodes was known for doing just about everything. Aside from his school record of 344 steals that still stands, Rhodes is now 10th in scoring (1,743 points) and assists (344). He is also an impressive 15th in rebounding (704), the best ever for a Maryland guard.
Rhodes admits that he “occasionally” thought about why his name wasn’t in the rafters – his number was, since John Lucas also wore 15 – but as he said today, “I try to look at the positive side right now. Truth be told, I appreciate it now more than I would have a few years ago. I am very thankful.”
Having received his undergraduate degree in art a couple of years ago, Rhodes owns his own local construction company. Though he never made the NBA – held back mostly by an inconsistent outside shot - Rhodes said that not reaching that dream “strengthened me in other areas in my life.”
Rhodes, who along with teammate Exree Hipp played briefly with the Harlem Globetrotters, is realistic to admit, “I could have been one of those guys who made a lot of money and didn’t have a penny to show for it.”
Rhodes, who attends Maryland games regularly, sees some similarities between this year’s team and the one he played on as a freshman. That team, which finished 12-16 in 1992-93 and was Maryland’s last losing season, was young, talented and badly undermanned inside.
Smith and Booth arrived the next season.
“The missing link is that big guy,” Rhodes said. “Once we get that [next] Joe Smith and Keith Booth, we’re going to be right back.”
Rhodes sacrificed his scoring as a sophomore once Smith and Booth arrived. After averaging 14 points as a freshman, Rhodes said, “I knew I had to get it into the big guys for us to win.”
It is something Terrell Stoglin can learn from next season, with the arrival of Shaquille Cleare and what Mark Turgeon expects to be a stronger Alex Len. Currently ranked near the bottom of Division I in steals, the Terps could also learn something about that part of the game by watching old tapes of Rhodes.
Rhodes was a four-year starter and a key member of three NCAA tournament teams at Maryland, the first two reaching the Sweet 16. In his final game, a first-round NCAA loss to Santa Clara and a relative unknown point guard named Steve Nash, Rhodes had 27 points, nine rebounds and five steals.
But his favorite memory from his time in college came the day the Terps watched the NCAA Tournament selection show his sophomore year.
Considered a bubble team late in the season, the room exploded with cheers and tears when it was announced that the Terps would play Saint Louis University (where the athletic director was Debbie Yow) in the opening round in Wichita, Kan.
“We were all winners in high school so my freshman year was pretty tough,” Rhodes recalled. “To see the expressions on everyone’s faces, especially Coach Williams, that’s what I’ll remember the most. It was the start of what Maryland basketball became and it was great to be on the team that transitioned the program. I can see the same thing happening now.”
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