20 in 20: No. 1 --- Juan Dixon

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As mentioned in the last post, Joe Smith was the most dominant Maryland player in the Gary Williams era.

But when running down where everyone places in the pantheon of the last 20 years, there is an excellent case to be made that Juan Dixon did as much as anyone in that stretch.

Dixon, of course, is Maryland’s career scoring leader with 2,269 points. He is the Terrapins’ career leader in 3-pointers with 239, and ranks second in steals (333) and 13th in assists (371).

He possesses the underdog story that fits so perfectly into the narrative Williams crafted over three-plus decades as a coach, a scrawny jump shooter with a tough upbringing who simply loved the game.

Oh, and there’s that national championship and all, too.

The ranking system was based on choosing the best player, with an emphasis placed on longevity and performance while playing for Williams while not trying to make too much of team performance.

In reality, that last clause was meant to aid the likes of Walt Williams (who didn’t need the help) and Evers Burns (who probably did). Same goes, to a lesser extent, for D.J. Strawberry and James Gist.

But the truth of the matter is Dixon carried Maryland to its lone national championship. And that counts for something. Quite a bit, actually.

Dixon scored the final 155 of his 2,269 career points in that NCAA tournament, vaulting past Len Bias for the top spot on Maryland’s career scoring list while averaging 25.8 points in that postseason.

But Dixon was probably more valuable in the days leading into that six-game run, irked as he was with a frustrating loss to N.C. State in the ACC tournament.

“In a situation like this I have to be more of a leader and let guys know we need to be ready to play,” Dixon said at the time. “We need to grow up some. I’m definitely going to have some words to say.”

The guy almost always had the right words to say. He was probably Williams’ best on-court extension of his tenure, and realistically only Greivis Vasquez has come anywhere near that level since Dixon departed after the national title run.

He was the guy who famously came back to Cole Field House after the 2001 loss to Florida State (a setback that turned out to be Maryland’s last defeat in Cole and a loss still unfathomable to this day, considering how bereft of talent that Seminoles team was) and took shots into the wee hours of the morning.

All those Juan stories are easy to delve into, simply because there are so many of them and they all led to one final salvo on April Fool’s Day 2002.

But they should not obscure the 54 straight games in double-figures in points to end his career.

Or the 33 points he dropped on Kansas in the 2002 national semifinals, one of six 30-point nights in his career (more than anyone in school history besides Smith and Walt Williams.

There were the two dynamite performances at Duke in 2000 and 2001 that led to upsets at a place Maryland fans quickly dubbed Dixon Indoor Stadium.

And then there was the go-ahead 3-pointer in the national title game (go to about 1:35 on this clip) that further cemented Dixon’s legacy.

Dixon was the most outstanding player of that tournament, and rightfully so. There’s not a whole lot he could have done to enhance his stature in those three weeks.

The same goes for his four seasons with Maryland. And that’s why he takes the place as the best of the best in the Gary Williams era.

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
* No. 5: Steve Blake
* No. 4: Keith Booth
* No. 3: Walt Williams
* No. 2: Joe Smith

Patrick Stevens

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