Now, on the heels of winning the National Basketball Championship last spring, many sports pundits are debating if Juan Dixon, Chris Wilcox, and Lonny Baxter should be ranked among the elite all-time great players in Maryland basketball history.
This reporter can now imagine the backroom chatter among the so-called experts. Do you think Juan Dixon was a better two-guard than Brad Davis? What about the great Albert King—wasnt he better than Bryon Mouton and Chris Wilcox? Oh, and heres my favorite: Steve Francis could take Steve Blake to school on the court any day.
I know Ill get many letters and emails denouncing my comparisons, but so be it! (Did any of the former players ever win a national championship?)
And now for this year: The defending champions lost four starters, leaving point guard Blake as the lone returning starter. Shooting guard Drew Nichols and center/forward Tahj Holden will join Blake as the only significant players from last seasons championship team. They will start a new tradition in their new, corporate-sponsored arena.
Jamar Smith, an Allegany Community College transferee, will be expected to step into the rotation at center and both forward positions. Coach Gary Williams was impressed with Smiths quickness and scoring ability. He joins current teammate Ryan Randall and former Terrapin Steve Francis as the third player in four years to join the team from Allegany. His 17.9 points and 12.8 rebounds in 2002 led his team to a 32-4 won/lost record, while capturing the Maryland JUCO championship two years in a row.
John Gilchrist, a two-time Virginia State Player of the Year from Virginia Beach, is likely to back up point guard Blake. He averaged 20 points, eight assists, and one turnover during his senior year. John is known as a great passer and slash-master to the basket, while shooting over 80 percent from the free-throw line.
Coach Gary Williams found a gem in shooting guard Chris McCray. The Capital Heights native attended Fairmont Heights High School. A lanky 6-4, 166 pounds, last year he was a 40 percent, 3-point shooting machine, averaging 26.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 2.7 steals per game. Chris was named twice to the Washington Post All-Metro team.
Nik Caner-Medley was regarded as the best prospect out of Maine two years in a row. His 6-8, 220-pound frame should develop into forward-type muscular power in the style of former Terrapin Tony Massenburg. Niks shooting ability and presence inside will demand that the opposition post him down low. He was ranked as a top 100 recruit and was a finalist for the McDonalds All-American team.
Maryland should compete in the young Atlantic Coast Conference. All nine Atlantic Coast Conference teams lost significant seniors or juniors to the NBA draft.
Going into December, the young Ravens have won five games while fielding 15 rookies and 17 players with three years of experience or less. That surely qualifies them to be the youngest team in National Football League history. Consider the season a success!
Next month, look for my annual Top Ten Sports Stories from the past year. Happy Holidays to all!