National champions

Terps: In their 19th trip to the Big Dance, a resilient team comes home with the NCAA championship.

April 03, 2002

TALK ABOUT March madness - even if it's already April.

Juan Dixon and the entire University of Maryland basketball team just would not be denied, and the wonderful result was the Terps' first NCAA championship.

The title game against a scrappy Indiana team was sloppy and somewhat strange. But in the end, Mr. Dixon flung the game ball high toward the ceiling of the Georgia Dome, and before it came back down UM had upended its streak of 18 prior trips to the NCAA tourney without the prize.

Like the Ravens' march to victory in the Super Bowl last year, there's been a palpable sense that this version of the Terps would find a way to win, no matter what.

For Mr. Dixon - the All-American guard and team leader whose parents were drug addicts and died of AIDS-related illness - the victory was another triumph in an incredibly determined life.

He had plenty of help from the two other senior starters, Lonny Baxter and Byron Mouton. But when the Hoosiers took the lead in the last half, it was Mr. Dixon's three-pointer that ensured the threat lasted only seconds.

For Terps coach Gary Williams, the championship represents the fruit of 13 years of painstaking labor rebuilding a program that had sunk just about as low as it could get, including NCAA probation.

To get to this point, the intense Mr. Williams had more than a few great seasons end in disappointment. He's credited with often investing himself in kids that were risks on and off the court.

In the immediate sense, the only blemishes were the celebrations that turned destructive in College Park after Saturday and Monday nights' victories. Such barbarian behavior is inexcusable.

But nothing could diminish the sweetness of the Terps' accomplishment - by an exceptional group of players, a coach who salvaged his alma mater's pride and a university community seeking greater national prominence.

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