THINK OF THE players who've left College Park for greener pastures in recent years and think about the fanfare that accompanied their imminent departures, some early, some after four seasons. Joe Smith. Steve Francis. Lonny Baxter. Steve Blake. Juan Dixon.
We love you. You were great. We understand the future is out there, so go, but we'll miss you. You'll always be a Terrapin.
Now look for John Gilchrist. He's the junior point guard in street clothes, hoisting a three-pointer during Comcast Center warm-ups after saying he'd be ready to play by now, but he's not, not according to Gary Williams.
Gilchrist has not played a single minute in the National Invitation Tournament, not since the Terps' implosion in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, when Maryland was the most dispassionate team at the MCI Center, its alleged home away from home. The Terps have since reeled off a postseason run worthy of respect and praise.
What gives? Is it coincidence that the Terps are playing better, with greater chemistry and tenacity without Gilchrist?
Don't ask, the coach says.
So, like dutiful souls, we try to look the other way, figuring, why scratch at this thorn in the side of the Terps' NIT resurrection? If the coach says it's no big deal that the Terps' preseason Wooden Award candidate and 2004 ACC tournament Most Valuable Player is not on the floor, yet the Terps are better off, then it's no big deal.
Terrapin Nation is nothing if not faithful. One guy is not as important as the whole team. This is why the Terps keep coming back, year after year under Williams ... at least until this season, when the Terps, with Gilchrist at the point, fell into the abyss.
It seems as if Maryland and Gilchrist have made a deal: Let's end this relationship with some class, because there's no reason for either side to start pointing fingers.
Gilchrist clearly got on the program earlier in the season, spouting cliches about distributing the ball, making his teammates better, even though he wanted to drive, finish, prove his offensive potency ... to the pro scouts. Were his tears of frustration for Maryland's demise, or his own?
Williams, meanwhile, has declined any opportunity to break down Gilchrist or his game, even when it was apparent Williams was not seeing the point guard he needed or wanted.
It's the little clues, like how much Williams likes to point out that Sterling Ledbetter, the new point guard, is such a likable guy; like how many Terps have been in double figures, courtesy of Ledbetter's moving the ball.
It's the presence of the full-court press in this NIT run.
"You have to want to do it," Williams will say of that energy, mind-set.
There is a statistic that stands out, one that must be anathema to Williams: This season, Gilchrist committed a mere 30 fouls in 28 games, all while guarding ACC players like Chris Paul, Daniel Ewing, Ray Felton. It doesn't seem plausible to commit so few fouls, unless defense is not your bread and butter, unless NBA draft camps are as much or more the goal than an ACC title or an NCAA berth.
Is it a coincidence now that Gilchrist is out that the Terps are happy, better? We've tried to respect the coach's wishes and not make Gilchrist a primary issue. It's nice to know that when Williams' Terrapins see a final four brewing on the horizon, even the "other" one, they still want a piece of it.
The fact that the Terps have advanced to the NIT semifinals against South Carolina shows as much heart, character and tenacity as anything they've accomplished during Williams' reign. Which, of course, is saying something.
For a team to come back and compete this convincingly in a second-tier tournament after emitting a series of stinkers, the last against Clemson in the ACC tournament, almost defies logic.
During their free fall, these Terps were not a team. They were a Civil War regiment trudging home, bootless, disoriented, beaten.
Now look at them. A hop in their step. Uniforms starched and cleaned. Off to New York City, skyscrapers and everything, where hoops is king and everyone's a point guard.
Everyone except -- at this moment -- Gilchrist.
We can hear the coach's voice in our inner ear now. Do not make much of Gilchrist's situation, not when the Terps have done so much good work redefining themselves.
We can hear the logic in that request, because basketball teams are only as good as the next guy on the depth chart, capable of stepping in and doing the job. Ledbetter has fulfilled that task, taking over while Gilchrist nurses ... what?
His wrist? His ankle? His pride? His future?
It's not in College Park.
Sometimes, addition by subtraction is the only way to make things right. The Cubs didn't want Sammy Sosa, so they are paying millions to let him play for the Orioles.
Gilchrist has one year left on his deal, too, but the Terps are ready to move on.
Gilchrist needs a three-day run at an NBA draft camp the way he needed last year's three-game run in the ACC tournament to turn some heads.
Maybe Gilchrist will impress and get drafted. Or maybe he won't, and he'll rely on an invitation to training camp or a spot in the developmental league or in Europe, making money but his star never ascending again to where it once shone, so brightly, so very briefly.
Matchup: South Carolina (18-13) vs. Maryland (19-12) in NIT semifinals
Site: Madison Square Garden, New York
Time: 9:30 approximately
TV/Radio: ESPN2/WBAL (1090 AM)
Line: Maryland by 4 1/2