Maryland men's basketball Final Four and championship team reunite after 15-years. Coach Gary Williams along with two assistant coaches and 10 former players held a reunion at Xfinity Center. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Terence Morris and Mike Mardesich were in the middle of their rookie pro seasons the night Maryland beat Indiana at the Georgia Dome to win the 2002 national championship.
Morris, then in his first year with the Houston Rockets, recalled rushing home to watch the last few minutes of Maryland's 64-52 victory.
"I had to check my boys out, and when they won it, man, I felt like a proud dad watching his kid," Morris said Saturday. "I'm not there, I didn't win it, but I felt like I was a part of it because those were my brothers out there. I actually cried with them. It was that special."
Mardesich, who had started his professional career in Germany, recalled staying up through the middle of the night to watch the Terps cut down the nets, with coach Gary Williams waving the last piece like a flag as he stood on the ladder.
"I was crying for them, I was so excited, especially the way things went down in '01," Mardesich said. "We had that game [against Duke in the NCAA semifinal]. Some say we got [robbed]. I'm probably one of those. We wish we could have finished it and I wish I could have been part of the next one as well."
Morris and Mardesich, along with the late LaRon Cephas, were the seniors on the 2000-01 team that lost to Duke at the Metrodome in Minneapolis after leading by as many as 22 points in the first half.
As much as they enjoyed being part of Saturday's celebration to honor both of Maryland's back-to-back Final Four teams — the teams were introduced at halftime of the game against Iowa —Morris and Mardesich still think about what it would have been like to have been on a championship team themselves.
When Mardesich's wife bought him a DVD years later of the 2000-01 season — culminating with the loss to the dreaded Blue Devils – the 7-footer never unwrapped his Christmas present.
"It hurts," he said. "I've never watched the game. I've seen clips here and there. … Maybe one day. It's been a long time, but I don't think I'm over it."
Said Morris, "It's still a soft spot. It still hasn't healed in a way."
Williams said Saturday he has only watched "a couple calls to verify some things in my mind" from the 2001 game against Duke. The most infamous was what many called a "phantom" fifth foul called against junior center Lonny Baxter on Carlos Boozer that helped seal a comeback win for the Blue Devils.
There was another that Williams recalled.
"I saw Juan Dixon tackled, literally grabbed at halfcourt and no foul," Williams said.
Williams didn't know what to expect after his team finally reached the Final Four for the first time.
"I was very concerned with that, with the way we lost to Duke, whether that would be enough for that current group of players," Williams said. "They had never been to the Final Four before. We achieved that. Now what do you next year?"
Williams said he found out that his players felt the same way he did. Initially giving the team two weeks off before beginning offseason conditioning, Williams found out that the players were back within days of returning from Minneapolis.
"Then I knew we had a shot," Williams said. "I knew we were good enough if everything went right the next year. In fact, I said at Midnight Madness — and I got criticized by certain people for saying it — that we were going to win a national championship. I wish I was that good that I knew it."
After losing the first game of the 2001-02 season at Madison Square Garden to Arizona, the team that lost to Duke in the 2001 championship, Williams said, "I knew then. That didn't shake us at all. We were picked fourth in the country preseason. We knew we were that good."
Steve Blake, who was a junior on the championship team, said Saturday that he looks back sometimes at how close the Terps came to playing for two straight titles and possibly a third, when he missed a wide-open straightaway 3-pointer against Michigan State in the 2003 Sweet 16.
"I got a good look at it, just missed it, no regrets on that. If I'm going to finish my career, I'm going to finish it on my terms," said Blake, who completed a 13-year NBA career last season.
Baxter said that Maryland's exit from the 2000 NCAA tournament, along with a Tulane transfer named Byron Mouton the following year, might have been the fuel for the two Final Four runs.
A 35-point defeat in the second round to UCLA, which equaled the largest margin of defeat for any Maryland team in the NCAA tournament, had that kind of effect. The addition of Mouton, who went from a scorer to a defensive stopper, was the final piece.
"The UCLA game was a complete disaster. Things just went wrong from the jump," Baxter said. "After that, we really emerged coming into our junior year. Me, Juan, Byron Mouton. He was one of the key pieces we really needed to compete in the ACC and the tournament. He gave us the lift we really needed."