Commentary: Nostalgic look back at top Terps

The long goodbye, a little less sentimental than expected, ends this week as Maryland plays its final regular-season ACC basketball Sunday against Virginia and then begins its last ACC tournament run, which doesn't figure to last long, on Thursday.

A 61-year association with the league is ending acrimoniously as the Terrapins head for the big bucks of the Big 10. Maryland will certainly be facing their old rivals again in court, if not on the court.

There is little nostalgia for the end of the era down Tobacco Road. One can imagine conference officials tearing down the Maryland banner at the ACC tournament the moment the Terps are eliminated to reveal a shiny new Louisville banner.

Strangely, there hasn't been much nostalgia in this region, either. That's probably because the ACC is nowhere near what it once was, not to mention the fact that a high percentage of fans are too young to even remember when Wake Forest was relevant during the Tim Duncan era, let alone the Mark Price or Dennis Scott Georgia Tech teams or the Ralph Sampson-era Virginia juggernaut or those remarkable, national championship-winning North Carolina State squads.

To many, many Maryland fans, the only ACC games that really matter are against North Carolina and, especially, Duke - hence, a half-full Comcast Center for recent games against Wake and Virginia Tech. We'll see how energized the fan base gets for Nebraska, Northwestern and Minnesota next winter.

But there's plenty of time to look ahead. This week should be about looking back.

No, Maryland won't be remembered as the top basketball program in the ACC. Three ACC tournament titles in all those years isn't many.

But it's fair to say the Terps were a strong third, at least during the four decades or so with Lefty Driesell and Gary Williams on the sidelines. And third in the league once was not too shabby.

And, oh, did they have some great players.

This week, I polled colleagues and friends, some of whom spent time covering Maryland over the years for this newspaper, to get their thoughts on the all-time all-Terrapin teams. There was remarkably little difference of opinion. It was a fun exercise and it brought back a lot of great memories. Here, then, are the best of the best in Maryland history.


Al Bunge and Gene Shue were probably great, but they played prior to integration or color TV. They can't be among the top 15 Terps of all time. Earnest Graham was a heck of a scorer, Johnny Rhodes a heck of a defender, and Derrick Lewis a heck of a shot blocker. But they don't quite make it either. Nor do short-timers Brad Davis, Chris Wilcox, John Gilchrist, or Jordan Williams, or four-year mostly starters Greg Manning, Keith Gatlin, Terrence Morris or Nik Caner-Medley. All close, all memorable, but not as good as the following 15.



Center: Len Elmore. Maryland's greatest rebounder, Elmore was a second-team All-American in 1974 on the best team ever to miss the NCAA tournament.

Forwards: Keith Booth and Adrian Branch. Booth was a huge recruit for Gary Williams who went on to earn first-team all-ACC and third-team All-America honors. Branch scored more than 2,000 points and played on the 1984 ACC championship team.

Guards: Walt Williams and Steve Francis. Gary Williams credited Walt Williams with saving his job by staying despite NCAA sanctions and the "Wizard" had the greatest offensive season in team history in 1992. Francis was at Maryland for just one year but he was first-team All-ACC, second-team All-American, and all-world exciting.


Center: Lonny Baxter. Twice named a first-team All-ACC player, his play might've been the key to the national title run of 2002.

Forwards: Albert King and Buck Williams. King was a first-team All-America and the ACC Player of the Year in 1980 but for the top recruit in the land, his first two years were somewhat underwhelming. Maybe the toughest Terp, Williams usually had to play as an undersized center but often got the best of Sampson and went on to a distinguished NBA career.

Guards: Greivis Vasquez and Steve Blake. Vasquez was the ACC Player of the Year in 2010 and is the second-leading scorer in school history, while Blake is the school's all-time leader in assists, a first-team All-ACC player and the point guard on the national title team. These two just missed the all-time Terp first team.



Center: Joe Smith. Smith only stuck around for two years, but he was a first-team All-ACC player in both as well as the conference Player of the Year and the national Player of the Year his sophomore year.

Forwards: Tom McMillen and Len Bias. Driesell's most important recruit, McMillen made second- or third-team All-America three years in row, averaged more than 20 points and just shy of 10 rebounds for his career and played in the 1972 Olympics. Bias wasn't a huge recruit, but he built himself into the greatest combination of shooting, power and athleticism Maryland has ever seen, becoming the only Terp to twice be named ACC Player of the Year.

Guards: John Lucas and Juan Dixon. Dixon and Lucas are Maryland's only three-time first-team All-ACC players. Lucas was a first-team All-America twice and the first Terp to score 2,000 points. Dixon, the leading scorer in team history, was a third-team and first-team All-America and the ACC Player of the Year in 2002.


Every player on the first team has an argument for the Top Terp honor and Dixon's case, bolstered by the national championship, is particularly compelling.

But no one who saw Bias play, as he grew from just another freshman into a star during the run to the 1984 ACC tournament title run and finally into a chiseled, incomparable superstar; who enjoyed watching the landing gear come out on his prodigious dunks as well as his feathery touch from the corner and the joy with which he played the game, will ever believe any player was better.

He would've rivaled Michael Jordan in the NBA.

That he died so young was a tragedy.

That many will one day think he, and everyone else on this list, played in the Big 10 is a joke.

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