Hey, did you realize that Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon went to Kansas? Of course you did. It's the Most Valuable Narrative of their Sweet 16 game Thursday night. Jim Nantz will bring it up reverentially within five minutes of tipoff on CBS. Then another five times, probably, just to be safe.
But you know what? Turgeon maybe isn't even the Terps staff member with the most evocative connection to Kansas. Juan Dixon, Turgeon's special assistant, will be sitting on that bench, too, and darn if his Jayhawks link isn't something to marvel at.
On March 30, 2002, Maryland played Kansas in the Final Four at the Georgia Dome. It was their last meeting before Thursday night's. The Terps won, 97-88. The Baltimore Sun's front page the next day looked like this:
That you can't see all of Dixon's face on the cover is a shame, really, because maybe no other Maryland player has left as indelible a mark on an NCAA tournament game as he did. He had 33 points on 10-for-18 shooting, lifting Maryland out of an early malaise and to the program's first national championship game.
Now walk with me down memory lane.
"Maryland, after riding a career-high 33 points from guard Juan Dixon and outstanding efforts from forwards Chris Wilcox and Tahj Holden, will make its first appearance in the NCAA championship game when it faces Indiana tomorrow night.
What a night it was for the Terps (31-4) to show the talent, depth and heart that has made this the best team in school history.
What a night it was for the Terps, who stared down the team many had picked to win the tournament, even after Maryland stumbled late by watching an 83-63 lead shrink to 92-88 with 20 seconds left.
And what a night it was for Dixon, who managed to top his first two superb weekends of NCAA tournament play with his best effort yet. ...
Dixon added 14 in the second half, including six points in the final 1:11 to help the Terps avoid a collapse that no doubt made Maryland fans recall last year's Final Four flop against Duke. The Terps blew a 22-point first-half lead in the semifinals before losing to the eventual national champions.
This time, Maryland closed the deal for its 18th victory in the past 19 games by handing Kansas (33-4) only its second defeat since Jan. 12.
'I tried not to think about it, but I was. I found myself looking at the clock a little bit,' said Dixon, referring to thoughts of last year's Duke loss. 'I felt like I was in a rhythm. I've been shooting well in domes, and I just kept it going tonight. I'm a winner. I've been a winner all my life. I've beaten all odds since I was a kid. I believe in myself.'
Count Kansas guard Kirk Hinrich among the believers.
'He just played great. He shoots, he's quick, he moves without the ball, he's a great defender," Hinrich said of the Calvert Hall graduate. "What else do you want from a guard?' "
"It looked early on that the Jayhawks were making their return trip to the Final Four and Maryland was seeing, instead of being, stars. That's before Juan Dixon, as he has done throughout his soon-to-be-legendary career and this year's NCAA tournament, carried the Terps on his bony shoulders.
The first thing you would notice was the 19 points Dixon scored in the half, including half his team's points in a 24-12 run that gave Maryland its first lead on his three-pointer with 7:18 remaining. But it was Dixon's defense, finding the seam in Kansas' passing lanes, that led to many of his team's points."
"There are times in sports when you just sit back and marvel at certain individuals, especially when they get into the zone.
Like Michael Jordan when he was feeling it in Chicago. Like Randy Johnson, when he is intimidating batters with the fastball. Like Brett Favre, when he is zipping passes in between two defenders.
Maryland guard Juan Dixon is feeling it, and the rest of the Terps are enjoying the ride. In the 2002 NCAA basketball tournament, he has carried the Terps on his little shoulders, and he did again last night in Maryland's 97-88 semifinal win against Kansas.
Maryland will play Indiana in the championship game tomorrow night at the Georgia Dome, and Dixon is expected to have another great performance, an encore. He has to have one, because it seems only fitting.
The Terps' run through the 64-team NCAA field is so reminiscent of the Ravens' Super Bowl run a little more than a year ago.
Juan Dixon has become Ray Lewis. They have the same obsession, the same look. It's a mission.
And it's fun to watch. Dixon scored 33 points last night, 19 in the first half when the rest of the starters, except for forward Chris Wilcox, were struggling. Point guard Steve Blake couldn't shake Kansas' guards and center Lonny Baxter was in foul trouble. Maryland looked like a team that was nervous instead of one that played in the Final Four a year ago.
But the Jayhawks couldn't handle Dixon. They tried beating on him, holding him. They tried just about everything short of a box-and-one. Nothing worked.
'He is just a great player,' Terps forward Byron Mouton said. 'The most impressive thing that always gets me is how he gets open, finds his shots and gets his shots. With a guy like that on your team, you've always got a chance to win.' "
The good folks on the Internet made a 15-minute video of Terps highlights from the game. There's a lot of Dixon in there.
Dixon scored at least 27 points in four of Maryland's six NCAA tournament games that season. He had 18 in the final against Indiana, a 64-52 win, but it was his Final Four epic that drew attention from Kansas fans this week.
"The game of basketball is about runs," he told Washington's WTOP on Wednesday. "They had their run early, we made our run after that, and we maintained our lead. They were a very good team, but we were a hungry team. We lost the previous year to Duke in the Final Four, so we knew what it took to get over that mountain and achieve what we did in 2002. No, they didn't deserve to win that game."