Williams also appreciates how unusual it is to have such a senior nucleus, in this day and age of early college exits to the NBA. In recent years, elite programs have lost too many stars to the pro ranks to maintain that type of upperclassmen continuity. Kansas, for example, lost underclassmen Raef LaFrentz and Paul Pierce as NBA lottery picks five years ago. The Jayhawks could lose junior All-America forward Drew Gooden this spring.
Under Williams, only Joe Smith (1995) and Steve Francis (1999) have left early for the big leagues. Much of that has to do with Williams' recruiting style. Consider that Danny Miller was the only McDonald's High School All-American on the Terps a year ago, and he transferred to Notre Dame.
"Juan and Lonny weren't considered blue-chip recruits, but they have had a chance to become very good college basketball players. I think there are a lot of guys [who left early] making a lot of money playing basketball who are jealous of Juan and Lonny's experience here," Williams said.
"If you get a great player who might leave early, that's great. But your program has got to be good. The key is to have guys who are hungry and want to improve. Can they help you become a better team? Will they hurt the team personality-wise? I've been criticized over the years for not getting this guy or that guy. I'll take my guys."
Said Baxter: "I'm much more mature and wiser than I was when I came in. It means a lot to us [seniors] to make this last run the best. We owe it to everybody that supports us. We owe it to the young guys. They look to us to give them confidence. They see what we've done, and they want to be the next ones to do it."
This group of seniors will be the next one to make Williams cry, maybe as he is celebrating the school's first national championship. Then again, Williams already has gotten started. On March 3, when the seniors were honored before the Terps concluded the Cole Field House era with a 112-92 victory over Virginia, Williams began to lose it early in the ceremony and headed quickly to the locker room.
"You spend so much time with your players. You're here more than you're home. Part of the thing you learn as you go through coaching is to listen to your players. That's the way it is with the seniors," Williams said.
"I can ask Juan if he is tired or if the team is tired, and his answer will determine how hard we practice that day. I trust them. They know me and what I expect of them. I know them and what they expect of me. It's a familiarity thing you enjoy when you have good people. Those three guys certainly are that way, and I'll definitely miss them."