Back at the beginning of this 20-in-20 project last week, it was mentioned that longevity was a factor in determining the order of the top players of the Gary Williams era.
Not the factor, but certainly a factor.
And it was pretty much with Steve Francis in mind that it had to be.
Francis, of course, authored a single brilliant season with the Terrapins (1998-99). It had dunks, had sublime shooting, had steals, had a Sweet 16 appearance.
And then it was over, Francis deciding to cash out and secure NBA riches after taking a decidedly circuitous route to College Park in the first place.
It leaves quite a quandary. By a measure of sheer talent as a college player, Francis easily belongs in the top five —- perhaps as high as No. 2.
But talent isn’t the only thing that matters for this list. Individual performances certainly matter, both qualitatively and quantitatively.
Francis, it should be noted, scored 24 points in an upset of Stanford; dropped 25 points at Rupp Arena against Kentucky; deposited 22 points as Maryland completed only its third regular-season sweep of North Carolina in 33 years; and closed out his Cole Field House career with 32 points against Clemson.
There is no question he was a quality player.
But a single season is a single season, and it wasn’t quite on the level of Michael Beasley or Kevin Durant —- let alone a college game legend with greater staying power.
There is no begrudging Francis his decision to bolt, especially now that he’s dealt with injuries in recent years. He made the right call to turn pro.
But he was still a guy who averaged 17.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists to go with 95 steals while shooting at a 52.3 percent clip. Oh, and there were the dunks. Lots and lots of dunks.
It was over and done with in 34 games, a burst that lasted 125 days. Despite the impressive quality, it simply doesn’t have the quantity of other fine players who passed through the program.
There’s an argument to be made that Francis belongs higher. Just the same, there’s an equally good case to drop him further down simply because one season —- no matter how good —- can only mean so much.
Ten years after Francis’ departure —- yes, it’s been a decade —- there’s no debating what a marvel he was in his one year. In some ways, he helped reignite a program that had survived the post-Joe Smith era (two first-round NCAA exits, then a commendable Sweet 16 appearance in 1998).
Still, he played at Maryland for a season. Six of the remaining seven guys on the list logged four seasons. Ultimately, that matters —- and makes this an appropriate spot to place Francis for his contributions.
* 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
—- Patrick Stevens