A NI(gh)T to remember 20 years later, McMillen-Elmore Terps recall joy at winning 'other' national title

April 01, 1992|By Bill Free | Bill Free,Staff Writer

Rich Porac woke up 20 years ago in the city that never sleeps and was shocked to discover his picture on the front sports page of The New York Times.

Porac had scored only two points the night before, when Maryland rolled over Niagara, 100-69, in the National Invitation Tournament championship game at Madison Square Garden, but there he was cutting down the nets.

"That's a picture I'll cherish the rest of my life," said Porac, a sophomore point guard on the 1971-72 Terrapins. "I'll be showing it to my kids for a long time. But I can't believe it's been 20 years. That makes me feel old."

Yes, it has been 20 years since Tom McMillen and Len Elmore led Maryland to the NIT championship that still stands as the only national basketball tournament title won by the Terps.

It was supposed to be the first big step toward coach Lefty Driesell's dream of turning Maryland into the UCLA of the East.

With McMillen, Elmore, Jap Trimble, Mark Cartwright and Porac only sophomores at the time, it was hoped that an NCAA !B tournament title would follow. But it never materialized, leaving bittersweet memories for some of the players.

McMillen said: "We were an incredible victim of circumstances. [CBS commentator] Billy Packer rates our 1973-74 team as one of the top 25 college teams of all time, but we've never been in the Final Four."

Maryland lost to eventual NCAA champion N.C. State, 103-100, in overtime in the final of the 1974 ACC tournament and had nowhere to go but the NIT, which the players turned down. Those were the days of a 32-team NCAA tournament, and only the ACC tournament winner went to the NCAA.

Despite the bitter ending to their college careers, members of that Maryland team still savor their NIT title.

Trimble, playing in his hometown, still remembers how badly he wanted to soar through the air and slam home a dunk for the 100th point of the game and complete the 100-69 romp over Niagara at the Garden.

But he simply laid the ball in the hoop.

"First of all, the basket wouldn't have counted if I dunked it, because dunking was illegal at the time, and, secondly, I didn't want Lefty yelling at me," said Trimble, who played only in the final six minutes of the game, after the outcome had been determined.

Trimble had lost his starting spot midway through the season after developing knee problems and having a disagreement with Driesell.

The disappointment of not seeing more action in the NIT remains with Trimble.

"Growing up in Manhattan and East Harlem, the NIT was bigger to me than the NCAA," said Trimble. "That's all everybody talked about, and when I went there to play with Maryland, all my friends came out to see me and I wanted to show them something. That's why I considered dunking the ball."

For a time, Trimble lost his tournament championship ring. It was stolen in 1975 while he was playing a pickup basketball game.

"Five years later, the Prince George's County police found it [rings had players' names on them] during a raid," he said, "and I got it back. That's really the only symbol of pride left for me from the NIT."

For Porac, there was kidding about being a cover boy.

"My father said I was acting as if I had scored 30 points or something," said Porac.

It would have been more fitting if McMillen and Elmore had been cutting down the nets. They carried Maryland through the tournament.

McMillen, the tournament MVP, had 91 points and 40 rebounds in four games (19 points, six rebounds in the championship game), and Elmore had 66 points and 55 rebounds, including 16 points, 15 rebounds and 11 blocks in the championship game.

Jim O'Brien, a junior forward on the 1972 team, believes that Elmore was the MVP.

"Lenny should have been the MVP," said O'Brien. "Tom was almost everybody's fair-haired boy and Lefty loved him. Lefty and Tom's father were real close."

Elmore, who came out of New York's Power Memorial with Trimble, didn't want to get drawn into any more controversy over the MVP award but he said: "I was the people's choice at the Garden that night. The fans were calling my name and Walt Frazier (New York Knicks guard at the time) told me I could make a living playing basketball."

The 1972 Terrapins possessed a lot of talent, intelligence and an ability to perform together.

"Actually, it was a pretty distinct group," said McMillen. "Everybody was their own individual, but we respected each other and there was a kind of closeness. I have played in a lot of games since that NIT championship, but I'll never forget it."

On a flight to New York for NIT games, McMillen -- now a Democratic congressman from Maryland's fourth district -- had an early brush with politics.

"I remember Martha Mitchell [wife of John Mitchell, the former attorney general] being on the plane," McMillen said, "and she was trying to recruit me to join the committee to re-elect President Nixon. I wasn't ready to jump into the political arena yet."

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