Maryland Madness goes old school on anniversary
A basketball program with an uncertain future celebrated its illustrious past at Maryland Madness.
Several members of the 2002 national championship team, along with former head coach Gary Williams, were on hand Friday night to mark the 40th anniversary of the first Midnight Madness. Steve Blake, Byron Mouton, Chris Wilcox and Mike Grinnon, along with current NBA star Greivis Vasquez and former NBA standout Steve Francis, participated in a star-studded alumni game.
''Those guys made the program what it is today,'' senior guard Sean Mosley said before the event got started. ''I'll be out there watching the whole time.''
The alumni game generated far more interest than a short scrimmage that served as an introduction to coach Mark Turgeon's first team at the school, an undersized and inexperienced squad that will almost certainly struggle in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season.
This version of Maryland Madness had a different feel than the ones that preceded it. The first one, held in 1971 under coach Lefty Driesell, was little more than a one-mile run around the track at midnight by the players on the first official day of practice.
In recent years, the event revolved around Williams, the winningest coach in school history. The highlight of his 22-year career was the NCAA title run led by guards Juan Dixon and Blake, forwards Wilcox and Mouton, and center Lonny Baxter.
Dixon and Baxter weren't in the building, and Holden was introduced but did not play. But Williams was there, and that was plenty good enough for a crowd that nearly filled Comcast Center.
Williams has vowed to stay away from the court while Turgeon seeks to build the program to his own liking, but he couldn't resist returning to see the players on the school's lone championship team. Also, he rarely gets to talk to Blake and Vasquez because the NBA is usually in session at this time of year.
''I talked to Mark Turgeon and made sure he was fine with it,'' Williams said. ''It's just coming back to see these guys, and then I'm out of here. I'm just here for the alumni game, because all my guys are playing in it.''
Williams recalled that the 2002 team ''went nine deep'' with talent. That represents a vivid contrast from the current squad, which contains only three seniors and includes six walk-ons.
Which explains to a large degree why everyone was so excited about reliving the past through the 2002 team.
''That's one of the big focal points of this night,'' said sophomore guard Pe'Shon Howard, who loves the idea of being part of a new era of Terps basketball.
''Maryland has a certain standard, and we have to live up to it,'' he said. ''I'm excited about that.''
Perform well at Maryland, and you'll be loved forever by Terps fans. That's how it is for Vasquez, who was showered with cheers during introductions.
''I love Maryland fans,'' Vasquez said after the game. ''That's why I'm always going to come back, because their support is unbelievable. I was a little down because (of the lockout), but being back here makes you forget about all your problems.''
Williams, meanwhile, was trying to adjust to not having a basketball in his hand this time of year.
''My first team I ever played on, I was 8 years old. So, it's been that long,'' he said. ''It's different, there's no doubt about it. But at the same time, I feel good.''
For two decades, Williams was the focus of Midnight Madness, then Maryland Madness (the name changed after the NCAA no longer forced schools to wait until midnight to start).
Over the past several years, Williams entered the court in an armored vehicle, a race car, a motorcycle and almost every other conceivable mode of transportation.
''That was fun, but it was also something that we wanted to do to sustain Midnight Madness because it started here,'' Williams said. ''It got tougher every year. It was like, can you top this?''
On this night, he just walked onto the court. And the crowd stood and cheered, paying homage to the good times of yesteryear.
Williams returned the favor with an old fashioned fist pump, which resulted in the loudest ovation of a memorable night.