Sweet memories: Maryland welcomes back 2002 NCAA champs
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) Always quick to make a point, Gary Williams stopped in mid-sentence after being overcome with emotion.
Gazing upon the players he guided to Maryland’s only NCAA basketball championship, the former coach said, ”Just getting together again, it’s just like … 2002.”
Maryland celebrated the 15th anniversary of its unprecedented title run Saturday, welcoming back the team that went the distance in its second straight Final Four appearance.
It was the first time the players and coaching staff got together in one place since they assembled at the White House to be honored by President George W. Bush.
”It went quick,” Williams said. ”As you get farther away from it, the more you appreciate what they did.”
After losing to Duke in the national semifinal game in 2001, the Terrapins returned to the Final Four in 2002. Maryland defeated Kansas to reach the title game, then topped Indiana 74-62 before cutting down the nets in a long overdue celebration.
The star of that squad, Juan Dixon, did not attend the pregame session for boosters but joined the team for introductions at halftime of Maryland’s game against Iowa.
All told, it was quite a reunion.
”We get together again after 15 years, and it seemed like it was a day,” reserve guard Mike Grinnon said. ”We’re a family, and we’re going to stay in touch.”
Williams became the winningest coach in school history, yelling and screaming his way to 713 victories – including 32 in 2001-2002 – before retiring in 2011. He entered the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2014.
The title team did not have any high school All-Americans, but the players melded as a unit and outperformed squads with far more talent.
”Coach had a really strong work ethic,” said Steve Blake, who started at guard as a freshman for the title team. With a wry smile, he added: ”If we didn’t work hard, he was sure to let us know very quietly and calmly.”
It was reunion that featured smiles, handshakes and hugs. To those who became thicker around the middle after all these year, a playful poke of the belly was in order.
”Basically, when you think it has been 15 years, you come back, you look at the trophies, the accomplishments that we had, it’s great,” center Tahj Holden said. ”Some of us look like we could still play and haven’t aged a day, and some of us look like we’ve never played.”
Each of them have memories of Williams that won’t change over time.
”He was great for us,” Blake said. ”He taught us how to be successful. He taught us that if we had success as a team, individual accolades would come for all of us. And we bought into that. And obviously it worked.”
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