Terps raising 2 shirts to roof

Maryland to honor Dixon and Baxter before Wake game

February 24, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - In the minds of some basketball recruiting observers, one player was thought of as too small and frail to make an impact in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The other player was considered too short and fat to do the same.

Today, both players get to laugh at those silenced critics in the twilight of their superb collegiate careers.

And when the jerseys of Maryland seniors Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter are retired before the No. 2 Terrapins (22-3, 12-1) tip off against No. 20 Wake Forest at Cole Field House, maybe no one will relish the moment more than Maryland coach Gary Williams.

Williams still bristles at the speculation that he had made two mistakes when he signed Baxter and Dixon, who went on to become the backbone of his program.

They have been part of more victories than any other seniors in school history. For the second straight season, they are the team's top two scorers. They led the Terps to their first Final Four a year ago. They are two prime reasons Maryland is in position to earn its first outright ACC title in 22 seasons and could win its first national championship.

Baxter, the 6-foot-8 center from Silver Spring, and Dixon, the 6-3 guard from Baltimore, join 12 other honorees whose numbers hang from Cole's rafters.

"It's always nice to see players do it on the court, where there's no debate," Williams said. "You do it in front of everyone. There's a scoreboard, and at the end of the game, you know how well you've played.

"The low level of expectations [for Dixon and Baxter] came from a couple of idiots that put stuff on the Internet. That creates facts in some people's minds. They are as valuable as anybody else hanging up there, without a doubt. The facts back it up."

Dixon and Baxter have left indelible imprints in College Park.

Dixon, who combines the ability to score and disrupt opposing offenses as well as any player in the nation, stands an excellent chance of walking away as the school's all-time leader in scoring and steals. Baxter is in good position to become the first Maryland player to record 1,500 points and 1,000 rebounds.

Dixon is the guy who never stops moving without the ball and is all over the court. He already has become the first player in NCAA history to produce 2,000 points, 300 steals and 200 three-point field goals.

Baxter is the anchor in the paint who overcomes a lack of size with bulk, deceptively quick feet and tenacity. He has 32 career double doubles and is the only Maryland player ever to be named MVP of an NCAA tournament regional.

"We've definitely proved a lot of people wrong. A lot of people counted us out. Me and Lonny just did our jobs. All it took was a lot of hard work," Dixon said.

"When I first got here, I used to glance up there [in the rafters] every once in a while and picture my name and number up there. I didn't believe I would do it like I did, but I believed in myself. I believed I could come into this program and contribute like I did."

The near-end of the road brings accolades that must be extra sweet.

Baxter, who led Anacostia High School to the Washington city championship as a senior, attended Hargrave Military Academy (Va.) and came to Maryland as an overweight prospect eager to improve. He was a first-team All-ACC selection as a sophomore and could make the list again this year.

As a 260-pound senior, Baxter runs the floor as well as any big man in the country. He will lead the team in rebounds for the second straight season and is the ACC's top shot blocker.

Dixon, a 165-pounder who, pound for pound, is the team's strongest player, dug himself out of horrific circumstances as a teen-ager, when he lost his parents to drug-related AIDS.

He went on to star at Calvert Hall, quietly backed up Steve Francis as a freshman, and will lead the Terps in scoring for the third consecutive season. He also likely will become the first Maryland player to be named to the first-team All-ACC squad for three straight seasons since John Lucas did it from 1973-75. Tom McMillen (1972-74) is the only other Maryland player to accomplish that feat.

"I don't care that Juan was thought of as too thin or that Lonny wasn't tall enough or too fat or whatever. I just thought those two guys could play for us," Williams said. "Juan has done stuff no other college player has done. Lonny is the first Maryland player to be MVP of a regional. Those two guys were part of a lot of wins."

"A lot" is 100, to be exact. With Dixon and Baxter on board, the Terps have a 100-30 record. And with three games left in the regular season, including the final two ever at Cole Field House, they expect to make Wake Forest victim No. 101 while protecting a half-game lead over second-place Duke.

The Terps figure to extend their perfect home record against a Demon Deacons team they have owned recently. Maryland has beaten Wake Forest six straight times, including last month's 22-point victory in Winston-Salem, N.C. The Terps should become the first team in school history to achieve a 23-3 record.

The Demon Deacons (18-9, 8-5) are not exactly peaking at the right time. Swing forward Josh Howard, possibly their best player, has missed three of the past four games with a high ankle sprain. Wake has lost three of four, has fallen to Duke and Maryland three times by a combined 74 points, and is coming off an embarrassing 90-61 rout at home by the Blue Devils.

"They're a strange team," Dixon said of the Demon Deacons. "Some nights, they come ready to play. Some nights, they give up early."

Terps today

Opponent: Wake Forest

Site: Cole Field House, College Park

Time: 2 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 11

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