The Washington Times - June 25, 2009, 06:12PM

Fact:Steve Blake never ranked better than third on his own team in scoring while in college.

Opinion-Fact: Maryland wouldn’t have come anywhere close to the Final Four-national title-Sweet 16 combo it secured without the point guard.

SEE RELATED:


The funny thing is, if I was making a list of the top 20 players in the Gary Williams era five years ago, I’m not sure Blake would have ranked this high. Lots of players were flashier. Lots of players had more outsized personalities.

Put simply, lots of players simply looked better while plying their trade.

But looks aren’t the same as production. And Blake was unquestionably productive, rolling up four 200-assist seasons while make substantial contributions to the peak of the Williams era.

No other Maryland player has three 200-assist years. Only one (Keith Gatlin) even has two.

But there was more to Blake’s game than merely calling some plays and doing what anyone intelligent in his position would do – pass it to Juan Dixon or Lonny Baxter.

Blake was inevitably in the middle of some significant twist, especially throughout the final three years of his career. He wasn’t Forrest Gumping it, either. There was a reason he was involved in all of these moments:

* Helped tame Duke’s Jason Williams for 38 minutes in the infamous “Gone in 54 Seconds” game. A minute before the Blue Devils closed out regulation with a 10-0 run, Blake fouled out.

* Drilled a 3-pointer to tie the 2001 ACC semifinal against Duke with 8.1 seconds left.

* Crept up on a distracted Williams for a steal and a basket just before halftime of the Maryland-Duke game in 2002 at Cole Field House. (Blake, by the way, ranks fourth on the school’s career steals list).

* Hit a 3-pointer in the 2002 East regional final against Connecticut in the final 30 seconds to lock up Maryland’s second straight Final Four trip.

* Wound up taking the shot that would have sent Maryland to the Elite Eight in 2003 had it gone in.

The fact that not all of these things wound up in Maryland’s (or Blake’s) favor isn’t all that important. It’s that even as a guy who was never a memorable scorer, Blake still was involved in some of the most important plays Maryland had throughout his career.

There is also the development (insignificant for these rankings, but worth mentioning still) that Blake is arguably the most successful pro from Maryland post-Steve Francis.

Maybe it’s Chris Wilcox. Maybe. But Blake has gone from a second-round afterthought to playing 30 minutes a night for a playoff team (and, impressively enough, a guy with a just-the-facts bio on his personal website).

One reason Blake probably should be appreciated more now is the turbulence Maryland experienced at point guard after he left. The 2005 season was at times chaotic, and Maryland really didn’t have a point guard in 2006.

Obviously, Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez have handled things the last few years. But Vasquez, as good as he is, isn’t the soothing presence Blake was. And Hayes, while he’s put up some solid games, doesn’t possess Blake’s big-shot reputation.

People knew they were watching something special when Francis, Dixon, Joe Smith and Walt Williams played for Maryland. That probably wasn’t universally true of Blake, and that’s unfortunate, because it could be a long time before the Terps can deploy a traditional point guard who could orchestrate a game like him again.

Previously:

* No. 20: Exree Hipp
* No. 19: James Gist
* No. 18: Obinna Ekezie
* No. 17: Evers Burns
* No. 16: D.J. Strawberry
* No. 15: Drew Nicholas
* No. 14: Tony Massenburg
* The Next 10
* No. 13: Chris Wilcox
* No. 12: John Gilchrist
* No. 11: Laron Profit
* No. 10: Terence Morris
* No. 9: Greivis Vasquez
* No. 8: Steve Francis
* No. 7: Johnny Rhodes
* No. 6: Lonny Baxter

Patrick Stevens