Wednesday, April 03, 2002

Maryland title four-year project

Terps didn't jump early to NBA

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        ATLANTA — If Maryland's three starting seniors — Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter and Byron Mouton — had merely led the Terrapins to their first national title, that accomplishment would have been more than enough to secure their legacy.

        But what happened Monday night with the 64-52 victory over Indiana in the NCAA title game was the culmination of an exceptional four-year run and not just a one-season aberration. Behind primarily Baxter and Dixon, the Terps had a school-record 110 wins in four seasons.

        So after cutting down the nets on their final night in a Maryland uniform, they were asked what they would say to young players considering an early departure for the NBA.

        “College is a lot of fun to me,” Dixon said. “It's a good experience. I learned a lot. A lot of guys are talented. They're able to come out early. I mean, it's up to them.”

        Said Baxter: “Everybody has different situations, different things they have to face. But me, I don't regret (not) leaving college or anything. It was the best four years of my life.”

        Mouton, who transfered to Maryland from Tulane, mentioned an important point: “It took me five years to understand what it takes to win.”

        Next year's championship contenders will be shaped by decisions made until May 12, when underclassmen must have applied for the draft, and June 19, when they are able to withdraw as long as they have not hired an agent.

        Indiana sophomore Jared Jeffries remained non-committal when asked about his future Monday night, but he has indicated since last fall that he would consider leaving if assured he'd be a lottery pick.

        Kansas, which lost to Maryland in the semifinals, would appear to be in position to progress to a championship night in New Orleans next year. But those chances would diminish significantly if junior forward Drew Gooden chooses to leave. The decision of Connecticut sophomore Caron Butler also will have a national impact.

        Michigan State, which lost Zach Randolph and Jason Richardson prematurely last year, could lose sophomore point guard Marcus Taylor. But he could choose to return to add structure to a developing team, as Arizona's Jason Gardner did for the Wildcats this season.

        Those are decisions for another day. The morning after Maryland's first championship, coach Gary Williams accepted another trophy, smiled and said, “This will look good in my living room.”

        The seniors made the delivery possible.

        “No one really gave these seniors a chance when they came to Maryland,” Terrapins assistant coach Dave Dickerson said. “But they are the best in college basketball now, and they really appreciate what that means. They understand — and so do I.”

        Back home in College Park, Dixon wore around his neck a net from Maryland's title run, and he had a hard time containing himself as he spoke to 5,000 cheering fans.

        “You guys are going to make me be all emotional,” the Final Four MVP told the crowd before returning to his seat and burying his face in his hands.

        Later, Dixon explained his myriad of emotions.

        “It was my last night in a Maryland uniform, I'm hurt,” Dixon said. “It's bittersweet for me to go out on top with a national title.”

        Williams agreed.

        “This is a great day for all of us, it seems it hasn't stopped since last night. It's a great feeling,” Williams said.

        Before the team arrived at Cole field House for Tuesday's celebration, the crowd was worked into a frenzy watching a replay of the Terrapins' win over Indiana.

        By the time the Terrapins took the podium, the fans were thinking about the future.

        The crowd chanted “One more year!” when it was Chris Wilcox's turn to speak, a plaintive cry they hope will keep the sophomore forward from turning pro — and keep the wins coming.

        Wilcox said he has not made up his mind whether or not he'll turn pro.

        “I really haven't thought about it. I'm still trying to enjoy the moment,” Wilcox said. “I'm going to talk to my mom and my coaches; I just want to do the best thing I can do.”

        Said Williams: “His mom has pretty much said he is going to stay, so we'll see how that goes.”


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