Nothing like a little…….Deja Vu…..
How fitting that the Maryland Terrapins won the 2004 Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament on Sunday, March 14, 2004 in Greensboro, NC.
On Sunday, these Terps, led by their brash sophomore point guard, John Gilchrist, defeated the Duke Blue Devils, 95-87 in overtime, to claim their third conference tournament championship in league history.
Isn’t it ironic that Maryland’s last conference tournament title came in March 1984 (exactly 20 years ago) when the late, great Len Bias led them to victory over Duke? In that game, Bias soared for dunks, elevated for jumpers and snatched rebounds to earn MVP honors. He dropped 26 on Duke that day and every college basketball fan everywhere had found a new hero, a new superstar to idolize.
Bias’ performance that day catapulted him into the pantheon of great Terrapin players that had played before him-Gene Shue, Tom McMillen, Len Elmore, John Lucas, Albert King and Buck Williams. The difference-Bias had a conference tournament title and MVP status to boot, something the others did not. In time, Bias would take his place at the top of the list of great Maryland players.
Gilchrist, like Bias, lit up Duke for 26. He earned MVP honors after a three-day rampage that left Wake Forest, NC State and Duke in its wake. Like the Maryland team that preceded it 20 years earlier, this Terp squad defeated the same three schools in a 72 hour span to bring the trophy back to College Park, MD.
Many great players have donned the red, white, black and gold for the Terps since Bias’ last game in 1986. Walt Williams, Joe Smith, Steve Francis, Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter and Steve Blake were all tremendous talents that have since gone on to the NBA but unlike Bias and Gilchrist they do not have that elusive ACC conference tournament championship.
Gilchrist has some similarities to Bias. They both sported red and white Nikes and they could both take it to the rack with authority. But that’s where the similarity ends. Bias was poetic. He was the rare athlete that could catch the lob and flush it in one motion, making it look so easy that we all aspired to do it like him. He released his soft “J” at the peak of his jump, which was to say that no one would be blocking it unless they were 8 feet tall. In a word, he was awesome.
Gilchrist is pretty good in his own right though. Kryptonite strong with the ball, he can break down anyone off the dribble as Chris Duhon and the other Blue Devils painfully learned on Sunday afternoon at the Greensboro Coliseum. He can take it into the lane with the big boys and float one-handers off the glass as easy as spotting up and draining it from 20 feet out. In a word, he’s a player. He’s just another in a long line of studs that the Terps have featured for, oh, the last 30 years.
Any college basketball historian will tell you, that Maryland has a strong tradition and a fine pedigree but just a notch below those in that rare, exalted realm They don’t have an abundance of national championships (one) like UCLA or Kentucky (12 and 7 respectively) and they can’t trace their lineage to some of basketball’s most famous figures like other schools (Kansas, North Carolina, Duke).
What they do have, is a host of players that could make a fan of the average joe looking for a team to back. Whether it was Bias hooking up with Keith Gatlin for the nasty alley-oop slam or Gilchrist slicing through opposing defenses only to drop a runner off the glass for a deuce, Maryland’s had some very cool moments in NCAA basketball history.
Sunday, March 14, 2004 was one of them. Here’s to the Terps for delivering the most exciting ACC tournament in….20 years.