Terps' title meant more

Lost a bit last week amid the hoopla surrounding Camden Yards' 20th anniversary was an equally important milestone in this region's sports history.

April 1 marked 10 years since the Maryland men's basketball team won the and and only national championship.

The Terps stormed through Kentucky, Connecticut and Kansas before beating Indiana in an anticlimactic but satisfying title game that exorcised the demons of a blown 22-point lead to Duke in the previous year's Final Four.

It was a title that couldn't possibly have meant more to Maryland fans. The Terps were less than a decade removed from severe NCAA sanctions that crippled the program and undermined Gary Williams' ability to recruit talent, even though the penalties came from the previous regime.

But equally rewarding was the group of players who won that title. This was not a bunch of McDonald's All-Americans fulfilling their destiny, but rather a number of rather lightly recruited players whom coaches and fans alike took tremendous pride in watching progress throughout their careers.

In other words, it was everything this year's title team, Kentucky, was not, winning with a quartet of freshmen who'll be in the NBA when the Wildcats raise their championship banner next fall.

Maryland supporters watched in delighted awe as Juan Dixon developed from a skinny kid who could barely get on the floor as a freshman into the national player of the year with the deadly mid-range jumper. And as Lonny Baxter transformed himself from a doughy kid who couldn't jump into an unstoppable force in the paint.

With the inside-outside tandem those seniors provided, fans watched as Steve Blake turned into the best point guard in school history. And as senior Byron Mouton ferociously defended the opposition's best scorer. And as prodigious but raw talent Chris Wilcox blossomed as a sophomore. And as juniors Drew Nicholas, Ryan Randle, and Tahj Holden provided ridiculously good options off the bench.

Even at the time, Williams knew his team was basically the last of its kind.

And, sure enough, just one year later Syracuse provided the blueprint for future title hopefuls to follow, riding "one-and-done" freshman Carmelo Anthony to the national championship.

Although it's only been 10 years, those Terrapins of 2002 seem so old school today, a product of a different time when players chose a college and stayed for several years rather than packing up their books and withdrawing from all their classes a few weeks into their second semester to get ready for most important even of their basketball lives.

No, not the NCAA tournament. The NBA draft.

How much fun it would've been to watch John Wall develop at Kentucky instead of with the Washington Wizards, figuring out how to work with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in this, what would've been his junior year.

The difference between that Maryland team and this year's Kentucky team is the difference between a World Series champ that drafted and developed its talent and built for years into a power, and a squad of mercenaries bought on the free-agent market.

And the difference between a team very fondly remembered 10 years later, and a team whose fans will barely be able to name its components a decade from now.