As Cole closes, is Wilcox done building for NBA?

Cold Field House

The Final Game

March 04, 2002|By MIKE PRESTON

COLLEGE PARK - The University of Maryland brought back many of its former stars to say farewell to Cole Field House, but one of the program's top current players may have played his last game on campus last night as well.

Chris Wilcox. Will he or won't he turn pro after this season?

As Maryland fans and alumni celebrated their past with a 112-92 victory against Virginia, the future still isn't clear. It would look bright next season with Wilcox, guards Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas, forward Tahj Holden and forward/center Ryan Randle returning, but the future has been put on hold.

Everyone is awaiting the sophomore's decision.

Will he or won't he?

That answer probably won't come until the end of the season, but Wilcox has already given Terps fans a highlight reel in two years. There were questions about his game before the season, and if he was ready to turn pro.

There are no more questions.

He seems to have a green light, with some experts predicting Wilcox going as high as sixth overall in the NBA draft.

If it was indeed Wilcox's last game, he left leaving more fond memories. He grabbed 11 rebounds, scored 21 points, and again had some of the most exciting dunks, ones that still must have the rims shaking this morning.

Wilcox ran into foul trouble in the first half, but still had five points, two assists, one blocked shot and a steal in only nine minutes. Virginia wanted to crowd the lane on the defensive end, and often double-teamed Maryland center Lonny Baxter, but you can't overlook Wilcox.

Not when he stands 6 feet 10 and weighs 220 pounds. You can't overlook a player who tosses around 95-pound dumb bells in the weight room like they were Q-tips. He is a man-child, and is still growing.

Baxter and Wilcox are in this groove. They have this thing going. They can feed each other with great passes, two big men working in harmony. It was Wilcox who threw an alley-oop pass to Baxter for a vicious dunk with 10:23 left in the first half to tie the score at 19.

About four minutes earlier, it was Wilcox who came soaring through the lane after a missed layup for a dunk that gave the Terps a 12-10 lead. But Wilcox's best play came after a missed outside shot by Blake with 9:43 remaining. Wilcox was at the top of the key, snatched the rebound with one hand just inside the foul line, landed, and sprung again only to be fouled while attempting a layup.

He made one of two foul shots, but you get the picture. This man has a vertical leap that put him near the roof of Cole Field House several times last night. It's an experience just to watch his outstretched arms sail above the rim for rebounds.

But Maryland fans may have seen the last of Wilcox here. His offensive arsenal just keeps improving. He has that drop-step turnaround, the soft baby hook. He doesn't run; he just glides and seems to cover half the court in three steps.

He's not just a big man, but one with a lot of quickness. When Duke forward Mike Dunleavy scored 21 points against shorter Maryland forward Byron Mouton and guard Juan Dixon in the first game this season, Terps coach Gary Williams shifted Wilcox to guard Dunleavy in Maryland-Duke II. Wilcox's quickness seemed to catch him off guard as Dunleavy was held to 5-for-14 shooting and 15 very quiet points.

Maryland won in a blowout, 87-73.

There will be all kinds of arguments pro and con about Wilcox turning pro. Will he go in the first round? Is he mature enough to handle the physical pro game? Will he get enough time to refine his game? Will he come back to get his degree?

Those questions were legitimate maybe a decade ago, but the success of young players leaving as early as high school for the NBA has changed the entire dynamics of college players leaving early for the professional ranks.

When an NBA team dangles millions of dollars in front of a player, it's hard to fault the player for leaving early. That's just the way the college game has evolved.

Wilcox started the season playing behind Holden because he had problems learning the Maryland offense, and at times became a non-factor. But it was only a matter of time before he worked his way into the starting lineup. Talent overcomes a lot of shortcomings.

Wilcox has started the past 16 games and is the Terps' fourth-leading scorer, averaging 11.5 points as well as 7.5 rebounds. He was 8-for-9 from the field last night and posted his seventh double double this season. Some of those awesome dunks serve as adrenaline for the Terps and the home crowd.

After last night's game, Maryland officials honored some of their past greats. Some of them came onto the court in game jerseys. Television cameras and photographers shot the retired jerseys of players that hung from the ceiling.

Len Elmore. John Lucas. Len Bias. Tom McMillen. Steve Francis.

Another one should be there, but it might not happen. Wilcox may have played his last game at Cole Field House with the NBA stealing away a couple of years from one of the program's best players ever.

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