Best recruiting class in more than three decades," read one article. "Each player was rated a consensus top-100 prospect," you were continually reminded. "It's Gary's best class," one of those recruiting experts told you.
Four years later, none of it means anything. Today is one of those times when we step back and stare - a tightly wound men's basketball program suddenly resembles an unraveled mess.
Senior guard Chris McCray was declared academically ineligible yesterday, meaning his college career is finished. If you're looking for even bigger meaning, feel free to close the books on whatever long-term rewards were attached to the Terps' national championship.
Only two of the four super freshmen who joined the program immediately after the championship are still with the program. An analogy: Imagine winning the lottery four years ago and investing your winnings in Enron stock.
After years of winning and fielding a roster with players who avoided trouble, Terps coach Gary Williams finds himself heading a program that's as low as it's been in a decade. You have to go back to the 1995-96 season - the last time the Terps failed to win 20 games - to see this many problems.
Yesterday's news created a big splash for a program that longs for the days of still waters. I see ripples on two fronts: the state of the men's program and the role academics plays around Comcast Center.
For all of the Terps' recent struggles, Williams' legacy will forever be noted for two things: turning around a program that was once 7 feet underground and that amazing 2001-02 season. But it's what occurred after that season that is most relevant right now. Because Williams was in a position to do what Duke's Mike Krzyzewski has perfected: the art of reloading.
Krzyzewski has 10 Final Four berths in the past 20 years. Williams followed his national championship season with a Sweet 16 appearance, a second-round NCAA Tournament exit and then a visit to the National Invitation Tournament. Maryland appears to be headed for another year of March Blandness.
If you recall, it was only a matter of seconds after the buzzer sounded on April 1, 2002, that fans and experts immediately started talking about the program's bright future, all based around four names: Nik Caner-Medley (13.8 points per game this season), Travis Garrison (9.1 points and two pending misdemeanor charges), McCray (academically ineligible) and John Gilchrist (you'll find his name on an Israeli basketball roster).
Gilchrist is the only one of the bunch who never faced legal problems, and he was supposedly the program's biggest head case. As a group, they essentially had one magical weekend - the 2004 ACC tournament.
The two players who remain from that class lack the senior leadership abilities to give much hope for the final 12 games of the regular season.
Do you fault Williams? At the time, all of the recruiting gurus - people I'm convinced give their wives cubic zirconia because a high school coach insists it's the real thing - rated the Terps with a top-5 recruiting class.
Sometimes these classes simply don't pan out. But to not have a single consistent impact player in the bunch is a major disappointment.
Embarrassing losses, off-court legal problems and now academic troubles.
Granted the team has achieved a minimum score required by the NCAA in its new academic review system, and athletic department officials can give you a list of recent graduates, but something doesn't quite add up.
This is a department that invests $1.2 million and has 14 full-time employees and two graduate assistants assigned to help Terps athletes academically. Yet the NCAA Graduation Success Rates ranked the Terps last in the ACC, graduating just 30 percent of its men's basketball players.
That news was delivered one month ago, on the same day that the school announced a lucrative contract extension for Williams. Wisely, the new deal is incentive-laden with much of the bonus money tied to academic success.
It's too bad the culture of college athletics is such that academic achievements warrant bonus money. In a scholastic setting, sports should be the bonus and classroom success the mandate.
Since Williams arrived in College Park, the Terps have had seven players honored on the All-ACC Academic team. In that same period, Duke has had 32. (Players must achieve a 3.0 for such recognition.) Perhaps even more noteworthy, Maryland hasn't had a player on the team since 2000-01 - a year before Williams' teams peaked athletically.
Because the ACC is down this year, the current season isn't lost. To receive a bid to the NCAA tournament, the Terps will have to juggle their roster, replace McCray defensively, sweep their home games and win at least two on the road.
Williams is one of the 10 highest-paid coaches in the country. It is not unreasonable for there to be a bigger return for this investment - for fans, for the athletic department and for Maryland players. He's no longer building off of his finest day.
The last remnants of the back-to-back Final Four teams were the recruits. They were never as good as they were supposed to be, and you can't help but wonder when Maryland will be as good as it once was.
Read Rick Maese's blog at baltimoresun.com/maeseblog