Relationship between Maryland basketball, Baltimore is complicated

Maryland's Juan Dixon holds the ball and begins to celebrate as the seconds tick off the clock in the Terps NCAA second round 79-60 victory over the Georgia State Panthers.
Maryland's Juan Dixon holds the ball and begins to celebrate as the seconds tick off the clock in the Terps NCAA second round 79-60 victory over the Georgia State Panthers. (Doug Kapustin /)

It's one of the tastier bits of local basketball lore — the supposed cold war between Lefty Driesell's Maryland program and Bob Wade's high school powerhouse at Dunbar.

Just one problem, Wade says: The feud never really happened.


"The media played it up as a rift," he says. "But I thought the relationship was admirable. They were always welcome in our building."

Regardless, the rumored tension between the state's leading college program and the city's most storied high school dynasty is one chapter in the on-again, off-again hoops relationship between College Park and Baltimore.


That complicated history will come to life once again Saturday, when a very different Maryland program plays Princeton at Royal Farms Arena, the Terps' first game in Baltimore since 1999.

A few of Maryland's signature stars have come from Baltimore — Gene Shue in the 1950s, Keith Booth in the 1990s, Juan Dixon in the 2000s. But more often than not, the cream of Baltimore's high school crop has gone elsewhere — Skip Wise to Clemson, Quintin Dailey to San Francisco, Reggie Williams to Georgetown and Carmelo Anthony to Syracuse.

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Though Wade and several of today's leading Baltimore coaches praise current Maryland coach Mark Turgeon and note his staff's deep ties to the city, the fact remains that Turgeon's key in-state signings have come from the D.C. suburbs.

At this point, with Turgeon recruiting effectively across the world, analysts say it's not clear the Terps need Baltimore as a primary talent pool. They've only targeted a few players from the city in recent years (most recently St. Frances product Dwayne Morgan, who opted for UNLV).


"I still think Baltimore is important to Maryland, because it's a big city nearby," says ESPN recruiting analyst Jeff Borzello. "But I don't know that it's as impactful as it was in the past. The talent level just hasn't been there in recent years."

Turgeon says he's thrilled to play in Baltimore and hopes to do so more frequently. But he adds that's more about pleasing fans than about exciting local high school players.

With the sixth-ranked Terps having won nine of their first 10 games going into Saturday's matchup with Princeton (6-2) at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore, some of the credit for the early-season success goes to how the scout team has helped prepare the players in Mark Turgeon's regular rotation in practice.

"I think it's huge that we have a presence there," he says. "A lot of our fans come from the city of Baltimore and that area. Every time I go over there, I feel like I'm on campus. It's been really important to me to try to get a game over there, a quality game, which we got with Princeton."

Frank Remesch, general manager for the arena, says the game is nearly sold out. He installed a new scoreboard and refurbished the facility's basketball floor in hopes of attracting games like this one.

"We've been working on this for a long time," Remesch says. "Both sides are looking forward to having this as an annual event. No guarantees, but we are excited for this endeavor. … There's nothing like the enthusiasm of college kids and their sports, so we're very, very excited."

Dixon, now a special assistant to Turgeon, played in the last two Maryland games in Baltimore.

"First time going back home was really special," Dixon recalls. "I had just left high school [Calvert Hall] and had the opportunity to go home and play in front of our home fans. To play in a different venue and play in front of our fans was awesome."

'Win-win situation'

Wade says he's also delighted Maryland is finally returning, calling it a "win-win situation for everybody."

He has a unique view of the relationship between program and city, having experienced it as Baltimore's leading high school coach and then as Driesell's successor.

Though Wade dismisses any feud as an overblown media creation, he acknowledges that one of his early Dunbar stars, Ernie Graham, had a difficult relationship with Driesell. Graham believed Driesell had promised to stop recruiting New York superstar Albert King if Graham signed. Instead, Driesell signed both players.

When Maryland freshman Diamond Stone scored 16 points off the bench in his team¿s recent win over Connecticut in the Jimmy V Classic, it pushed the 6-11 center into double figures for his season average.

"Ernest was very upset, because he felt he'd been misled," Wade recalls. "They recruited him as if he was the guy they were after when in reality, they used Ernest as a second-tier player."

Graham had a great career at Maryland, setting a single-game scoring record, but remained bothered that he played second fiddle to King. His supporters in Baltimore were also angry that the university didn't do more to ensure Graham graduated.

Despite Graham's experience, Wade says he opened his gym to Driesell when Maryland recruited Williams and David Wingate, both of whom eventually signed with Georgetown. Driesell didn't recruit future NBA stars Muggsy Bogues or Reggie Lewis, both of whom played with Williams on Wade's undefeated 1983 national champions.

For whatever reason — and Wade says each player's recruitment was unique — none of his great stars from the 1980s chose Maryland.

But Wade says he saw firsthand the bond between the program and the city when he replaced Driesell in the wake of Len Bias' death.

"There was always a lot of interest in Maryland in the city," he says. "A lot of the games were shown on local TV, kids saw the highlights on local news, the coaches appeared on talk shows. Maryland was the team they grew up following."

But the relationship between the Maryland program and Baltimore hit rocky terrain again when Wade was ousted after just three seasons in College Park.

The Terps did not fully regain a recruiting foothold in the city until Gary Williams signed Booth — a lifelong Maryland fan and the last in a long line of Dunbar superstars — in 1993. Williams often said Booth (who declined an interview request) was his most important recruit ever.

He signed other Baltimore players over the years, from Rodney Elliott to Sean Mosley to Nick Faust. But even in an era of more friendly relations between the city and the program, Maryland has never managed to lock down every top Baltimore player.

Turgeon's teams have featured only two significant contributors from the city — Mosley and Faust — and he inherited both.

The climate is very different now than it was in the era of Driesell and Wade.

'Idea of local has changed'

Though Baltimore still produces its share of good college players, many now leave the city to finish their high school careers at private, basketball-oriented academies. There is no equivalent to the old Dunbar dynasty.

Regional loyalty is less relevant to recruiting than in college football. Every top coach crisscrosses the country, trying to woo the elite, as Turgeon did this year when he signed Diamond Stone from Milwaukee. Players' affiliations to shoe brands are often more important than their affections for local college programs.

Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon said injured guard Dion Wiley is recovering "slowly" from a torn meniscus in his knee, though he appears to be right on schedule in his rehabilitation.

"The idea of local has sort of changed," Borzello, the recruiting expert, says. "Maryland is a national brand, and they don't always have to rely on recruiting locally. If they get better players in Texas or Europe or wherever, that's the more important thing."


He pointed to Trevon Duval, one of Maryland's top targets in the class of 2017, as an example of the new normal. Duval grew up in Delaware, soared to prep stardom in Newark, N.J., and now plays for Advanced Prep International in Dallas. It's not clear what local would even mean to a player with his resume.


None of which is to say Maryland will ignore Baltimore going forward. It just takes the right player, and that might be Mount Saint Joseph sophomore Jalen Smith, ranked 17th in his class by ESPN. Turgeon has already offered Smith a scholarship, and the teenager has expressed strong affection for the Maryland program.

Borzello says that with former St. Frances coach Bino Ranson as the key recruiter on Turgeon's staff, the Terps will remain a formidable player in Baltimore recruiting.

Wade also praises Turgeon's efforts in the city.

"I just think he's done a tremendous job," he says. "They know the kids. The kids know the recruiters. And of course, the link to Under Armour doesn't hurt. The Maryland brand is strongly embedded in the city of Baltimore."