In many ways, the 2002-03 Maryland basketball season has been defined more by what it is not than what it is, similar to the way a move sequel is compared to the original.. Lonny Baxter is no longer a dominant offensive figure in the low post; that spot manned by Ryan Randle. Juan Dixon is not around to make the clutch shots and defensive plays; that responsibility is now up to Drew Nicholas with help from Steve Blake. Byron Mouton is not here to be an emotional leader and grab the key rebound or make a crucial steal; Calvin McCall has taken up that mantle.
I want to take a view of what this team IS this season, particularly the seniors. Going into their final regular season game, the four year seniors have compiled a record of 101-32, 47-16 in the ACC. The total of overall and ACC victories are the second highest in any four-year period in Maryland basketball history, trailing only last year's senior record of 110-31, 49-15 in the ACC.
Much has been made of the experience of this year's Terps squad, but having five seniors on this team is somewhat misleading. Holden had only started 14 games in his first three seasons, and Nicholas had only cracked the starting lineup once. Randle was only in his second year at Maryland after two seasons at Allegheny Community College, and McCall had barely played 200 minutes total in his three seasons. Neither Randle nor McCall had ever started a game prior to this season. Only Steve Blake had been a regular starter, and he now holds school records for most games played and most starts.
Even Blake had to change his role somewhat this season. With all of the preseason talk about his chances to crack the 1,000 career assist mark (only three players in NCAA history have done so), in reality he never actually had a shot at that milestone. For the first time in his career, he has played some wing guard when freshman John Gilchrist has come in to run the point.
While Blake's assists have dropped accordingly, he still leads the ACC in that statistic and three-point shooting. Blake has started as many rallies with his shooting as his passing this season. Most recently, he started the Terps' second half destruction of Clemson with two quick threes early in the second half. Blake richly deserved to see his jersey hung from the rafters at the Comcast Center.
Drew Nicholas was an important part of Coach Gary Williams' rotation last season, filling in at point guard and both wing positions. He has not been as consistent as some fans would like, but he has still averaged 17 points per game and connected on 41% of his threes and 85% of his free throws.
He has seemed to score in spurts this season, but two of those spurts were critical in the Terps pulling out that ugly 52-47 win at Clemson and a tough 74-72 win at Florida State. Of course, Nicholas made possibly the single biggest shot of the season to beat NC State.
He is not a player who can consistently carry an offense, but who is? He has made his share of big plays going back to last season's improbable win at Virginia and developed into one of the best scoring threats in the ACC. Let's not forget his defensive abilities. I don't think Duke's JJ Redick will anytime soon.
Tajh Holden has never put up big numbers, and his career will be viewed as a disappointment by some. He has, however, often saved his best for the toughest opponents. It is quite possible the Terps would not have won the National Championship last season without his efforts off the bench against Kansas.
Holden played perhaps his best game of the season at NC State Sunday, almost single-handedly keeping the Terps in the game during the first half. He also came up big in the recent blowout win over Wake Forest and the loss at Duke. He has very quietly developed into a shot blocker, leading the ACC in that category.
Ryan Randle has become one of the best low post players in the ACC. There have been games where his shot has not fallen, but he has also had some monster performances this season.
He had something of a coming out party in the early season game against Indiana with 20 points and 16 rebounds, and dominated Duke at the Comcast Center with 15 points and 17 rebounds.
Calvin McCall has been the most pleasant surprise of this group. Although he has a career high of only 11 points, he has often supplied a game-changing jolt of energy to the Terps lineup.
In the recent Wake Forest game, Maryland was off to a sluggish start until McCall entered the game and started making plays at both ends of the court. He has fit very nicely into the role of a player who provides the intangibles and gets his teammates to lift their games.
My point here is to encourage Maryland fans to remember this group of players not for what they did not do, but for their very positive contributions to the basketball program. These young men have been a credit to their team and school both on and off the court. They have earned and deserve our respect. This is even more so after the way they gutted out a tough win Sunday night. Gary Williams said earlier in the season "I don't know from game to game how this team is going to be good." They weren't very good Sunday night, yet had the toughness and heart to find a way to win in a very hostile environment.
By the way, the Terps have an excellent opportunity to win the ACC Tournament this year. That is something even the Dixon-Baxter group did not accomplish and would give this year's seniors the opportunity to have their own banner hanging from the Comcast Center. This would add to a "sequel" already a hit on its own merits.