After its national championship win, the 2001-02 Maryland men’s basketball team visited the White House for a ceremony commemorating its 12-point win. With four starters from the 2001 Final Four squad, the Terps had cruised through the NCAA tournament before beating Indiana, 64-52, to secure the program’s first national title.
The visit with former President George W. Bush was the last time former coach Gary Williams and his team were together.
But almost 15 years later, as this year’s Maryland team attempts to make the school’s third straight NCAA tournament, several players from the 2001 and 2002 squads reconvened in College Park. Before Saturday’s game against Iowa, Williams, former guard Steve Blake and others participated in a media session. At halftime, the university honored the teams for their historic feats.
“Great to see some of my teammates,” Blake said before Maryland’s 83-69 defeat. “It’s been years, been too long. It’s great to be back on campus, and I’m excited for the game.”
Blake, who played 13 years in the NBA, hadn’t seen the Terps play a home game until Saturday. So, as a slew of reporters surrounded him in the Xfinity Center Pavilion, Blake expressed gratitude for his alma mater arranging the championship anniversary. He yearned to watch the 2017 Terps compete in person and spend time with former teammates.
Along with Williams, Blake insisted the relationships haven’t waned in their absences. They still joked, he said, while reflecting on memories. They also caught up with Williams, who said he’s connected with his players more as a friend than a coach as the years have passed.
“It’s just as if we were with each other last week,” Blake said, “except for the extra grey hairs and some wrinkles, I guess.”
“Sometimes it feels like I never left,” added Lonny Baxter, the starting center on the 2001 and 2002 squads. “It feels like we won the national championship just yesterday.”
As they walked to center court at halftime, the crowd gave a standing ovation. A 47-40 Terps’ deficit kept the fans quiet for much of the opening 20 minutes. But as the announcer introduced each player, the Maryland faithful roared, growing louder for Blake, Williams and former guard Juan Dixon, a consensus first-team All-American in 2002.
The noise level inside Xfinity Center perhaps reached a crescendo when Byron Mouton, sporting a large grin, raised the 2002 NCAA championship trophy above his head and walked toward the raucous crowd.
“It [was] more than just a childhood dream,” said Drew Nicholas, a reserve guard on the title team. “I couldn’t even dream of something like that happening when I was a kid. Just for it to happen and for it to be the first one in school history up to this point, well, it’s special.”
After the ceremony ended, Maryland attempted to avoid their fifth home loss, and the crowd’s frustrations returned. The Terps trailed by as many as 22 points in the second half, prompting many fans to leave early. Boos rang out as the squad endured its first three-game losing streak since 2012.
Williams tried to stay positive after defeats during his 22-year Maryland tenure, and he believes this year’s team can benefit from that philosophy. Despite the recent rough patch, the longtime coach said the Terps must remember what they’ve achieved with the postseason nearing.
“Any time you start three freshman, to have 22 wins, it’s pretty good,” Williams said. “It’s such a fine line when you play in a power conference that you just got to get over the top again.”