MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

March Madness began in earnest through the wee moments of St. Patrick’s Day this morning with, perhaps fittingly, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame’s thrilling double-overtime win over Rutgers as the 2022 NCAA Basketball Tournament resumes full throttle at noon today.

The beginning of this tournament also marks the 20th anniversary of the University of Maryland’s lone national championship in men’s basketball and, yes, it is impossible to believe that magical run by that magical team was 20 years ago.

We’ll get to more of Gary Williams’ 2002 national champs in the coming days, but for now, to answer a query that was presented to me in a local public house recently, I give you the greatest men’s basketball players in history, ranked by merit and value to the longstanding benefit of University of Maryland basketball.

So, without further ado, one-man’s all-time best Terps:

  1. Len Bias. The two-time consensus first-team All-America and Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, flat out the best player in Maryland history and, as just a sophomore, a huge reason the Terps won their second ACC championship and first in 26 years.

There is nothing else to discuss here.

  1. Juan Dixon. The leading scorer in school history and the driving force behind two Final Fours and, uh, oh yeah, a national championship.

Moving on …

  1. John Lucas. Watching John Lucas play basketball for Maryland was so sweet it was like what the guy in Richard Pryor’s old barber shop said watching Sugar Ray Robinson fight was like. We just can’t print that here.
  2. Buck Williams. As the sign high above the court at Cole Field House read, “Don’t (obstruct) with Buck!” Or something like that that rhymed with Buck. I think Ralph Sampson was the one who put that sign up there.
  3. Joe Smith. National Player of the Year as a sophomore. Maryland’s 1994 win over Georgetown at Capital Centre, with Smith and Keith Booth starring as freshmen, got everything back on track.
  4. Len Elmore. Kept Walton and Burleson in check until Burleson went berserk in the ’74 Greatest Game Ever.

7 (tie). Tom McMillen. If Lefty Driesell doesn’t steal him away from Dean Smith, we’re not having this conversation.

7 (tie). Albert King. A great player and a better person, whom Lefty charmed away from Dean Smith and everybody else in the country.

7 (tie). Walt Williams. A great player, who, if he doesn’t stay during the hard and unfair times, we’re not having this conversation.

7 (tie). Keith Booth. The All-American who made all things possible by doing the right thing and re-opening the door to Baltimore for Maryland basketball. If he doesn’t come to Maryland, we’re not having this conversation.

  1. Greivis Vasquez. His body of work speaks for itself. But …

Dubbed the “Venezuelan Sensation,” Vasquez, the ACC Player of the Year his senior season, averaged 19.6 points and led Maryland to a share of the regular-season title. He was an overwhelming choice by 53 voting members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association, 39-12.

He concluded his career at Maryland as the only player in ACC history with 2,000 points, 700 assists and 600 rebounds.

As my former boss Dave Ginsburg wrote for the Associated Press, “Greivis Vasquez on the basketball court is like a Picasso in a museum: intriguing to the eye, far from ordinary, yet often unappreciated by those with conservative tastes.”

12 (tie). Steve Blake and Lonny Baxter. They have Dixon’s name on them, but no Final Fours or national championship without Blake and Baxter. Or Wilcox. Or any of them …

  1. Gene Shue. Nope, never saw Gene Shue play, but I have a hard time believing there can be an all-time Terps basketball list without his name being on it — Bud Millikan’s ACC tourney champs in 1958, Shue (All-America ’53 and ’54) and his legacy were the only things Maryland basketball had to hang its hat on until Lefty came in and brought in McMillen and Elmore.
  2. Brad Davis. The player Red Auerbach once wrote was “the best passer I have ever seen.” By the way, Auerbach wrote this about Davis while Davis was still a high-school player.

Davis was one of the three starting guards, along with Lucas and ACIT hero Mo Howard, who led the 1974-75 Terps to the Elite Eight. Oh, and Lefty couldn’t coach? Right. The Terps reached the Elite Eight that season with an unheard-of three-guard offense that the Lefthander concocted.

The forwards were Tom Roy and Owen Brown, two of the most underrated all-time Terps, as was Bob Bodell, my aunt Melva’s favorite player, and Jim O’Brien (“Shoot, Jim, shoot!”).

Why three guards? As Sen. John Blutarsky once said during his seven years of undergraduate work at Faber College, “Why not?”

No, the intended center on that Maryland team was in the process of becoming the ABA Rookie of the Year. As a teenager.

That player was the player who would have led Maryland to the promised land of winning at least one national championship and would likely be the No. 1 player on this list had he enrolled at Maryland as he announced he would. His name is Moses Malone.

  1. Steve Sheppard. Nicknamed “The Bear,” the 6-foot-6 forward participated on the United States national basketball team which won a gold medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics under Coach Dean Smith. The Bear was the bridge from the John Lucas teams to the Albert King-Buck Williams era.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT