- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2012

There’s a natural order to things in college sports. A group of players come in together, a few might be peeled off in the ensuing four years, and in the end they take their place in a pre-game ceremony before their final home game.

Senior Night ties everything together for teammates who endured plenty in pursuit of a common goal. It is a shared juncture on a long journey.

For the three seniors who will don a Maryland uniform for the final time at Comcast Center on Sunday, the celebration will amplify the strikingly different paths they each took to arrive at that moment. On many teams, postseason appearances or shared hardships as freshmen thread a graduating class together.

For the Terrapins (16-13, 6-9 ACC), it is quite the opposite. It is an unconventional group of three men who will share the stage on one afternoon in March.

The four-year player

Assuming he’s physically able — almost a universal certainty, given his track record — Sean Mosley will play his 130th career game Sunday. He will complete his fourth and final home schedule. He will be the last player introduced during warmups.

He is part of the action, of course, but he’s also part of the background. Mosley fit in from the start, with an old-school haircut and an old-soul game. Little wonder it feels like he is, well, old as his college career winds down.

Or at least older than he actually is.

“A lot of people think I was here for five or six years,” Mosley said. “I don’t know why. They have that in the back of their mind. Maybe because I was starting as a freshman and made an impact right away, guys probably thought I sat out a year and played.”

Nope. He just played from the start. He missed one game as a sophomore because of a sprained ankle. But aside from that, he was always part of the tapestry.

It was always a good fit, even if his production rose and fell over time. Here was the in-state guy who grew up watching local television as Keith Booth and Juan Dixon played for Gary Williams, an old-school coach if there ever was one. Despite interest from Syracuse, the Baltimore product decided to stay close to home.

Milestones came and went. So, too, did Williams, retiring after last season. Mark Turgeon came in, and Mosley was the invaluable bridge between generations.

“Each year we added a couple guys or lost a couple guys, but each year I felt as though we were a family, and that’s the most important thing for me coming from a close-knit family back in Baltimore,” Mosley said.

In the process, he carved out his own place, ever-reliable and omnipresent for what felt like forever but was really just a normal career.

“I was truly blessed,” said Mosley, who has 1,070 career points. “Time flies once you’re having fun in college and winning a lot of games. Four years went past so fast, it felt like I’ve been here for two or three years.”

Then he paused, the punch line set up perfectly.

“Some people feel as though as I’ve been here longer,” he said as laughter echoed through the hallway and his last go-round came a bit closer to its conclusion.

The walk-on

Jon Dillard played basketball his first three years at Maryland. It just wasn’t for the team occupying the biggest gym on campus.

The school’s club team wasn’t exactly the ACC, but Dillard was close with his teammates. They logged late-night practices at Ritchie Coliseum, a hit-or-miss venture vulnerable to cancellations when events occupied the old building’s basketball court.

No matter. He wanted an education, majoring in kinesiology at a strong school. It’s why he chose Maryland instead of chasing looks at Division III schools.

All the while, he never heard about walk-on tryouts. An opportunity for varsity play just wasn’t there.

“It was always in the back of my head,” Dillard said.

It became a more tangible goal when Turgeon was hired last year and said the Terps would add several walk-ons. So Dillard spent the summer working out and lifting weights, preparing for his one chance.

Many of his club teammates also tried out. Of the bunch, Dillard made it. His old buddies came to Maryland games all season, cheering on Dillard despite sporadic playing time.

The Yorktown, Va., native has appeared for all of six minutes so far, scoring his only two career points in a loss at Virginia. He also plays several guard positions for Maryland’s scout team.

It might not seem like much, but it has meant a monumental change in Dillard’s life. He remembers a time in high school when he visited College Park on the school’s Maryland Day open house and had his picture taken with Greivis Vasquez.

“Now, I’m walking around campus as a senior shaking hands with him and talking offense and defense with Greivis in a restaurant,” Dillard said. “He pulled me aside [at Noodle’s] and said ‘Listen.’ We’re just talking basketball. It’s a huge leap.”

Dillard glanced around the hallway outside the Maryland locker room, where the pro jerseys of alums currently in the NBA are displayed. He steps back and thinks about what he’s become a part of from time to time, soaking in the situation perhaps more than most would.

Basketball pushed back graduation a semester as well as the process of applying to medical and physical therapy schools. It’s a modest price for a single season spent in the biggest gym on campus.

“It’s meant everything to me,” Dillard said. “This has been, by far, one of the best experiences of my life.”

The international

Ask a Division I basketball player why he’s in college, and two answers often emerge: to get an education and to prepare for a career as a professional athlete, though not always in that order.

Then there’s the case of Berend Weijs, the Netherlands native by way of a junior college who will soon wrap up his two-year stint with the Terps.

“My dad made me,” he said simply.

Weijs was not fond of school, even before his stint in a six-year high school was extended 12 months when he failed final exams. (In his defense, his grandfather died during the testing period.) At age 19, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life.

He did know he didn’t want to study. His father operated a hardwood door factory, and Weijs figured he could always get a job there. His dad didn’t agree. An apparent stalemate emerged.

“So he said ‘I want you to study,’ ” Weijs said. “And I said ‘If you find something for me that’s interesting, I will agree with that.’ “

And so Ernst Weijs got to work. He called an old friend, who knew someone at Harcum College, a two-year school not far from Division I powerhouse Villanova. Within three weeks, Weijs (armed with passable but hardly proficient English) was on a trans-Atlantic flight to Philadelphia.

“I thought he was not going to find anything,” Weijs said. “I gave my dad a challenge and he gave me a challenge. We like to challenge each other sometimes.”

At 6-foot-10, Weijs was a valuable asset for a junior college. But he found something else enjoyable about this educational experience: Much of the classwork replicated what he’d already completed in the Netherlands, and Weijs earned junior college academic All-America honors.

A Harcum teammate brought him to College Park for pickup games two years ago, and word of the affable big man eventually trickled into Maryland’s basketball office. After initially drawing interest from schools such as Hampton, Longwood and New Hampshire, Weijs signed with the Terps.

Four years after the dare with his dad about his future, Weijs is about to earn a degree he figured he would never have. He has played in every game as a senior, averaging 2.0 points and 11.6 minutes.

And while his path converges with Dillard and Mosley on Sunday, he’s already looking ahead. He still isn’t sure what’s next, but he knows he has enough friends along the East Coast that he’ll always have a place to stay when he’s in the States.

“I’m having a great time,” Weijs said. “It turned out really good. For me, I think this might be one of my best impulsive decisions ever.”

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