(Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
If there was a trivia game about the history of Maryland basketball, Mike Grinnon would likely be a stumper to the question: who is the only men’s player in school history to play on both a national championship team and an ACC tournament champion?
Grinnon was a little-used freshman during the 2001-2002 season that culminated with Maryland’s NCAA men’s basketball title. Though his playing time increased marginally over the next three years, Grinnon is remembered for the free throws he hit to help beat Duke in Greensboro, N.C., as a junior.
What Grinnon recalls more is the defense he played in overtime against Duke guard J.J. Redick.
“The personal highlight of my career was absolutely that game, but contrary to belief, the more exciting moment for me was that I had to guard their leading scorer for every second of overtime and he did not get one shot off,” Grinnon said. “Personally that was more of an accomplishment than hitting the free throws.”
Grinnon said that he watched Maryland’s loss to Duke in the 2001 NCAA semifinals in Minneapolis on television, but didn’t understand the magnitude of that defeat (a game in which the Terps led by 22 points) until he got to College Park that summer.
“It was so amazing to see that the goal and the mission of the team was the same – it was to win a national championship,” Grinnon said. “Anything other than winning a national championship was really failure.”
In the preseason workouts, Grinnon was handed a T-shirt that read “Atlanta, Ga., 2002 National Champions”.
“I still have it to this day. We’d work out in it every single day,” Grinnon said. “The leadership that Juan Dixon portrayed and Byron Mouton showed was so remarkable.”
Grinnon did not play in either of the Final Four games, but he has vivid memories from that weekend in Atlanta.
“Kansas almost blew us off the court in that semifinal game,” Grinnon said. “When Coach Williams called that timeout, and it was probably before the first TV timeout we were down eight or 10 points to start, in that huddle, he didn’t say a word. We all just sat there and composed ourselves. It was almost a silent timeout with no words being expressed. We came out and took it from there. That was kind of something special that stuck out in my mind.”
Then came Monday night against Indiana.
“The thing that sticks out in my mind is just being in the locker room before the national championship game and the nerves,” he said. “It was like silent and everyone was so focused. No one was really talking to one another. It was so surreal.”
Grinnon came to Maryland out of St. Dominic’s High on Long Island with hopes of becoming a starter with the Terps, but he never averaged more than the 11 minutes a game he played as a senior. Grinnon is realistic about the way his career panned out.
“Always throughout my career I had the mentality that I was going to be a prime-time player,” he said. “I know some people might think otherwise, but I always went out there to be competitive and have a major impact on the team. I knew I was going to have to earn my stripes because I was playing behind some future NBA players. I knew with Byron [Mouton] graduating, there was going to be the tremendous opportunity to get playing time after my first year. ”
It didn’t happen, as Gary Williams had perhaps his best recruiting class ever coming off the two straight Final Fours.
“The teams that I played on those four years were some of the best teams in the program’s history, so I was playing with and competing against some really good talent,” Grinnon said. “There was a lot of talent that came in on the teams after me -- Nik Caner-Medley, Chris McCray, D.J. Strawberry, Mike Jones -- that had a lot more potential to elevate their game to the next level than the role player that I was.”
Grinnon, who graduated with a degree in communications in 2005 and manages a staff of financial planners for New York Life in Tysons Corner, has no regrets.
“Do I think things could have played out a little bit differently? Sure, but at the same time Coach Williams was definitely fair with the way he treated me,” Grinnon said. “I had a very special and unique relationship with Coach Williams and the coaching staff.”