WASHINGTON — As the sports world marches closer to basketball madness, Terrapins fans anxiously are awaiting NCAA Tournament play and hoping Maryland can replicate the success of the school’s last champions in 2002.
Detroit Pistons guard and former Terrapin Steve Blake remembers those glory days well.
A junior when he was the starting point guard under Coach Gary Williams for Maryland’s first national championship basketball team, Blake knows what it takes during March Madness.
“This time of year, there are no excuses, so you have to just go out there and do it,” Blake said Monday in an interview with Capital News Service.
Blake was in town for a critical regular-season Eastern Conference showdown with the Washington Wizards, who are vying with the Pistons, among others, for the final playoff spots.
“It’s always fun to come back,” he said, referring to playing in Verizon Center, the venue of Wizards, the franchise that brought him into the NBA as part of the lauded 2003 draft class. “I enjoyed my first two years here. I learned a lot,” Blake said. “It’s cool that it’s close to College Park.”
After starting off the season with their best record in school history at 15-1, the Terps finished the regular season with a 25-8 record, resulting in a five seed tournament bid.
“Obviously, you wish they had a higher seeding. They just need to go out there and play with the confidence they’ve had early on in the year,” Blake said. “Those things work themselves out.”
Of course, at the end of the 2001-2002 regular season when Maryland won it all, the Terps had a No. 1 seed coming off a 26-4 record. Blake helped to lead that team to the championship. The following year, he earned First-team All-ACC honors and helped the Terps reach the Sweet 16.
A resurgence in the men’s basketball program in College Park ended a five-year absence from the tournament with a berth last year.
“Coach Turgeon has done a great job in getting the program back where it needs to be,” Blake said. “He’s done a great job in recruiting and putting the players in a position to be successful.”
He pointed to two-time All-American, All-Big Ten point guard Melo Trimble as an example of that resurgence.
“I love his game,” said Blake. “He is very poised out there. He is smart about picking his spots at when to attack, shoot and pass,” he said, reflecting the widespread praise the sophomore player has won from casual fans to reigning NBA MVP and Blake’s former Golden State Warriors teammate, Steph Curry.
Something that Trimble faces that is relatively foreign to Blake are the Midwest-oriented Big Ten opponents (Maryland exited from the Atlantic Coast Conference at the end of the 2013-14 season).
“Obviously, I’ve played in the ACC and I kind of have a good feeling towards that. But, you know, the Big Ten has been good to them. They have been successful in it,” Blake said. “I think overall it’s a good move and I think they will just continue to get better in the conference.”
Thirteen years in, Blake is the last athlete from the 2002 Maryland team still playing in the NBA.
“To play this long, I just try to continue to get better, work hard be good teammate, be a professional and fit in with whatever team I’m on,” Blake said.
Blake regularly returns to the area to run his annual summer camp in College Park for local youth. He also thinks that the school that recruited him out of southern Florida will be fine this spring.
“Go play with confidence, have fun, compete, give it 110 percent,” Blake advised the Terps.
“I think things will turn out all right for them,” he said.