The Washington Times - June 13, 2009, 09:44AM

A little more than two days remain until Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez faces a deadline to choose between the NBA and returning to school for his final season of college eligibility.

This protracted wait – quite possibly, right down to Monday at 5 p.m. – is something surprisingly uncommon for a program that was a steady top-20 presence for more than a decade.

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Anyone’s list of the top 10 players who have come through College Park in the last 30 years is going to include Len Bias, Walt Williams, Keith Booth, Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter. It certainly could include Steve Blake and the perennially underrated Adrian Branch and Johnny Rhodes. All were four-year players.

And that doesn’t even include Albert King, who played half of his career within the last three decades and also stayed in CP for four seasons.

So rather than a mass exodus, Maryland instead has witnessed a trickle of early entrants – six by my count, though I’ll concede I’m not sure if a random undrafted player slipped through at some point. And for the most part, they all made the right choice when staring at the same decision Vasquez faces now:

BUCK WILLIAMS (1981)

In college: Williams had just finished averaging a double-double for three straight seasons when he applied for a hardship waiver into the NBA Draft. He tossed up 15.5 points and 11.7 rebounds while shooting 64.7 percent from the floor as a junior, and remains fourth on the school’s career rebounds list.

As a pro: Went No. 3 overall and was the NBA’s rookie of the year in 1982. Logged an 18-year career with three teams.

Verdict: Very much the right decision.

JERROD MUSTAF (1990)

In college: Brought into the program by Bob Wade, he played in Wade’s last season and Gary Williams‘ first season. Over two years, Mustaf averaged 16.6 points and 7.7 rebounds for a team that always had some sort of external distraction hovering over it. He still ranks in the top seven for single-season points and rebounds as a freshman (sixth and fourth, respectively) and as a sophomore (fourth and seventh, respectively) in Maryland history.

As a pro: Went No. 17 overall to New York. Played four seasons in the NBA, averaging 4.0 points and 2.5 rebounds, and ultimately produced a dozen years as a pro including overseas play.

Verdict: Maybe the numbers aren’t there, but Mustaf departed after the NCAA handed down its probation verdict to Maryland. When you wind up in the first round and your college program faces upheaval, it’s tough to knock the decision.

JOE SMITH (1995)

In college: He was the national player of the year as a sophomore and helped Maryland reach a pair of regional semifinals. He averaged 20-and-10 for his entire college career.

As a pro: Went No. 1 overall to Golden State and, while not a star, remains in the league 14 years later.

Verdict: No one who goes No. 1 overall makes a bad decision. No one.

STEVE FRANCIS (1999)

In college: The JUCO transfer lit up the ACC with his monstrous dunks and helped. He averaged 17.0 points in his only season with the Terps, helping keeping the team entrenched in the top-10 all season until a loss to St. John’s in the regional semifinals.

As a pro: Went No. 2 overall to Vancouver. Averaged at least 21 points in three of his first six seasons and reached three All-Star games in his career. But he was sent to basketball purgatory – Isiah Thomas‘ Knicks – in 2006 and injuries contributed to a rapid drop in production.

Verdict: Tough to argue with the early results. Francis didn’t enjoy a gradual career decline like many players get to, and in retrospect he was exceptionally wise to begin his earnings clock a year sooner than he could have.

CHRIS WILCOX (2002)

In college: Averaged 7.9 points and 4.7 rebounds in two season, though his sophomore season (12.0 points, 7.1 rebounds) was vital to Maryland’s national title march. He also dominated Kansas’ Drew Gooden in the Final Four, a defining impression from a short career.

As a pro: Tough to believe Wilcox just wrapped up his seventh season in the NBA, but it’s true. Wilcox was drafted No. 8 overall by the L.A. Clippers, then was dealt to Seattle. He was a regular starter for the Sonics’ final 2 1/2 seasons – earning a nice three-year deal that brought him $6.75 million for this past season alone.

Verdict: Wilcox was drafted on potential more than production, and those sorts of players are almost always smart to leave early. Wilcox’s career scoring average is less than 10 points a game, but he’s already looking at his third contract. An extra year likely wouldn’t have helped his draft stock (the ‘03 draft famously included LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade), so no one should take issue with Wilcox’s choice.

JOHN GILCHRIST (2005)

In college: Perhaps he wasn’t quite the ACC tournament deity Randolph Childress was, but Gilchrist’s performance in Greensboro in 2004 was quite close. A superb point guard in a time the ACC’s ballhandling landscape was incredible (including Chris Paul, Jarrett Jack, Raymond Felton, Chris Duhon and Julius Hodge), Gilchrist very much belonged in that company for two seasons. But he clashed with Williams and left after his junior year – which happened to be Maryland’s first NCAA miss since 1993.

As a pro: Gilchrist went undrafted, and wound up with many more passport stamps than millions. But it would seem he’s matured in the last four years, as this entry and a recent interview on Baltimore’s WNST (look for the June 12 stuff) would suggest.

Verdict: Given how Gilchrist’s junior season turned into an untenable mess, there was probably no going back. If anything, he might have stayed a year too long given that he averaged 15.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists as a sophomore. It’s a great what-if, and obviously things haven’t turned out the way anyone would have imagined they would in March 2004.

Patrick Stevens