How’s this for a cross-sports analogy?
Drew Nicholas is the Maryland basketball equivalent of Steve Young.
Young, of course, was a backup for years to Joe Montana who happened to enjoy a Hall of Fame career once Montana departed San Francisco.
Of course, Young had more than a year to work with. Nicholas didn’t after Juan Dixon led Maryland to a national title in 2002.
It’s not like Nicholas did nothing in his first three seasons. He was a more-than-capable reserve guard the entire time, and he played a prominent role on the championship team after Danny Miller‘s departure opened up more time in the rotation.
Oh, and there were those daggers Nicholas tossed in from the ionosphere in a rally at Virginia in his junior season.
However good Nicholas was, Dixon happened to be there, too. And who, realistically, was going to play ahead of the leading scorer in Maryland history?
No one, of course. Which meant Nicholas had one season to demonstrate just how good he was.
As it turned out, he was plenty capable of carrying a team.
He averaged 17.8 points and shot 44 percent from the floor (including 41 percent from beyond the 3-point line). It was enough to leave him with 1,221 points (29th in school history), 307 assists (19th in school history; both he and Exree Hipp seem to have vanished from the career list in that category) and 176 made 3-pointers (fifth in school history).
That’s solid work for a steady three-year reserve. But Nicholas gets a slight bump for his buzzer-beating work late in his senior season.
To begin March, Nicholas canned a 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left at N.C. State to secure coach Gary Williams‘ 500th career victory. A few weeks later, Nicholas bailed out the Terps with a walk-off runner in the opening round of the NCAA tournament against UNC Wilmington.
To be sure, the Long Island product has his share of forever moments. And considering just how good he was as a senior, it’s tempting to wonder what he might have accomplished individually with more playing time.
His pro work in Europe certainly indicates 2002-03 was anything but a fluke. And while most of this list is dotted with guys whose college careers earned them at least a season in the NBA, Nicholas belongs alongside them as one of the 20 best Maryland players of the last two decades.
* No. 20: Exree Hipp
* No. 19: James Gist
* No. 18: Obinna Ekezie
* No. 17: Evers Burns
* No. 16: D.J. Strawberry
—- Patrick Stevens