Madness in College Park

The Maryland men's and women's basketball program kicked off their season last night.

On the night when the new-look Maryland men's basketball team was on public display for the first time, it seemed as though everyone in College Park was living in the past.

The 40th annual Maryland Madness event kicked off the 2011-2012 season Friday night in style, welcoming back some of the program's most notable alumni, headlined by members of the 2002 National Championship team. Chris Wilcox, Steve Blake, Byron Mouton and Tahj Holden were among the players representing the 2002 team Friday night. Glaringly absent from the mix however, was 2002 Final Four MOP Juan Dixon, who according to reports had missed his flight into Washington D.C. and wasn't able to attend as scheduled.

On a night that Turgeon told his team was “all about them”, the Terps' didn't really seem to mind that most of the hype was focused around the alumni. In fact, some enjoyed it just as much as the fans. “Maryland has a great individual tradition of players,” said sophomore guard Pe'Shon Howard. “So I'm more excited about the alumni game than my own scrimmage. I know I'm here for that team.”

“I think those guys made the program what it is today winning the national championship, the first national championship we had at the University of Maryland,” added senior guard Sean Mosley. “A lot of fans want to see that. I'll be out there watching.”

But the blast from the past didn't end with the return of the 2002 team. Among the others making the trek back to their alma mater were former All-Americans, Steve Francis and Greivis Vásquez. Always the crowd-pleaser, Vásquez strutted slowly onto the floor at Comcast Center to a deafening roar from the Terps' faithful. Yet, his reception paled in comparison to the surprise guest introduced just a few minutes later.

Last in the line of Maryland greats, was the man who many would say took them to such a level. Shortly after Johnny Holliday announced there would be a special coach “roaming the sideline” for the evening, the approximately 8,000 fans in attendance watched as the video board focused in on the unmistakable figure of Gary Williams. As the longtime Terps' coach walked onto the court that will soon be graced with his name, the noise inside the Comcast Arena rose to an almost unbearable volume.

Yes, there was the famous Gary fist pump. But that was it. No words for the people. No words for the team. In the media room before his entrance, Williams was very blunt with his intentions. “I talked with Mark to make sure he was fine with me coming,” said Williams. “I'm just here for the alumni game. I came back to see the guys and then I'm outta here.”

Williams, who has been careful to distance himself from the program since his retirement in May, described his absence in recent months as part of a necessary “stepping back process”, noting that he has talked to some of the players occasionally, but only to offer encouragement.

However, when asked about his legendary predecessor, Turgeon was quick to point out the hand Williams has had in helping him transition into the program. “He [Gary] has been phenomenal,” said Turgeon. “He's introduced me to all the right people. We went out to dinner this week and he got me in front of some very important people and he's eased the transition for me.”

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