The Unbridled Pragmatist
smart enough to know how dumb we are

Dont Mess with 2002, Bill Simmons

So Bill Simmons decided to call 2002 a “septic tank” of college basketball.  You know what else happened in 2002?  My junior year of college.  In April of that year I sat in the Georgia Dome as my Maryland Terrapins won their first and only NCAA men’s basketball title.  The year was magical, incredible rivalry games, the last ever Terp game at legendary Cole Field House, a road trip to Atlanta for Spring Break where 10 dudes split one hotel room.  The Embassy Suites we stayed at during the Final Four may have cancelled both the free happy hour and breakfast buffet after we left.  When free food and booze is available to college kids you make it count; we drank like Lindsay Lohan and ate like Brian Wilson.

 Now back to Bill Simmons.  Is he a knowledgeable basketball fan? Sure.  Is he a cocky windbag with a super self-inflated ego?  Sure.  Does he often refuse to admit outside factors that discredit his at times ludicrous claims?  Sure.  Combine these factors and you get asinine statements like the “septic tank” state of college hoops in 2002.  In honor of BS, I will refute his claim Dr. Jack style.

Let’s examine Maryland’s run to the ’02 title.  They opened the tourney against Siena and Wisconsin, neither team had a player of note, and Maryland beat both handily.  The second weekend brought two college basketball powerhouses, Kentucky and UConn. 

 Kentucky’s star player was a tall, lanky fella named Tayshaun Prince.  You may remember him from his starting role on the Detroit Pistons 2004 NBA championship, or if you prefer his spot on the 2008 gold medal winning USA Olympic team.  I bet the dude plays in the league for a dozen years.  And you know what happened?  Maryland beat his team in the Sweet 16.

Next up was UConn, who had a pretty tough swingman that currently has two NBA all-star games on his resume.  Some know him as Tough Juice, others simply as Caron Butler.  He was a force in college. UConn’s Hall of Fame coach has called Butler one of his favorite players to ever coach.  Butler was also the Big East Player of the Year.  You’re right Bill, definitely no talent in college hoops in 2002.  And you know what happened?  Maryland beat this team in the Elite Eight.

 Atlanta and the Final Four came next.  Maryland played Kansas on one side of the bracket while Indiana played Oklahoma on the other.  The Kansas team featured Kirk Hinrich, Drew Gooden, Nick Collison and Wayne Simien.  All played in the NBA, all were first round picks.  I could go further, cite Hinrich’s scoring ability for the Chicago Bulls, or Gooden’s weird facial hair, but it’s not necessary.  That Kansas team was loaded, they went to the NCAA final the following year. Ol’ Roy’s squad was stacked with talent.  And you know what happened?  Maryland beat them in the Final Four.

The final game.  Maryland versus Indiana.  Indiana was a surprise to get that far; they beat the odds-on favorite to play the Terps in the title game, the one and only Duke Blue Devils.  Duke in 2002, yeah, they had some talent.  Jay Williams, starting point guard, NCAA Player of the Year.  Williams was the number two overall pick in the NBA draft that year.  Williams suffered a horrible motorcycle accident and never lived up to his pro potential.  Ask any talent evaluator of William’s NBA prospects and he was labeled “can’t miss”.  He was the prototype for the strong point guards coming up every year now; Eric Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall.  Do you think they modeled their game after Jason Kidd?  Hell no.  These are strong guards attacking the paint and knocking down the jumper when the defender can’t stop them.  Williams could not be stopped in college, and would have gone number one overall if not for an 8 foot tall Chinese dude.  Oh yeah, the Dookies also had Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy Jr.  Boozer has multiple all star games to his credit and an Olympic gold medal.  Dunleavy is on his way to a decade in the pros.  But Duke lost to Indiana (on a gameplan designed by Gary Williams I might add) so all Maryland could do was play Indiana.

 The Hoosiers were not a deep team but they had one stud.  Jared Jeffries was a sophomore when he led his team on an improbable run to the NCAA final, named Big 10 Player of the Year in the process, and later a lottery pick for the Washington Wizards.  Indiana also had a bunch of farm boys who could shoot the lights out.  And you know what happened?  Maryland beat them to win the national championship.

So Maryland beat some pretty qualified teams with some damn good talent.  Maybe it would be fair to look at the Terp’s roster.  The leader and heart of the team was Juan Dixon, drafted 17th overall and who played in the NBA for six years.  The starting center Lonny Baxter was a second round pick and bounced around a few teams for a few years in the pro’s before he was undone by awful decision making.  Chris Wilcox went pro after the championship, was a lottery pick at #8 to the Clippers.  Needless to say, his career has largely been a bust.  I blame it on the Clippers, and I think Simmons has written expansively on the inescapable stink of LA’s second team.  Some careers are not meant to be:  David Thompson liked cocaine, Christian Laetner was an asshole, and some people are subjected to life under Donald Sterling.  Despite all this, Wilcox is still in the league making millions of dollars and probably smoking really good weed.

The player with potential for the most NBA longevity on that team is the one with the simplest game.  Dixon never had the size to make it in the pro’s, and Lonny was just too crazy.  But Stevie Blake will play 15 years.  He knows his role, is a pure point guard, and can knock down the open jumper.  He is the perfect backup point guard for an NBA championship team, and I would wager he plays in an NBA Finals some day.  He does all the right things, and sometimes, especially in the hyper-schizophrenic NBA world, that is enough.

 2002 was a great year for college hoops.  We can’t always take Bill Simmons seriously, after all this is a dude who lost to his wife in an NFL pick ‘em.  Don’t take your anger over attending Holy Cross out on 2002.

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