The penultimate Maryland men’s basketball player to descend from the concourse onto the court during his introduction Friday night, Dez Wells brought something special to the historic building he had never before entered. As Cole Field House pulsed from those who returned to the old building for one night of memories, the junior guard stepped onto the new oak floor, imported specifically for Maryland Madness, bent down at midcourt and kissed the center circle.
As the old collided with the new before 11,500 alumni, students and former coaches, the current Terrapins embraced their role as the torch-bearers bringing basketball back across campus to Cole Field House, which turned into an intramural gymnasium once the men’s and women’s programs moved to Comcast Center. None, however, enjoyed it as much as Wells, a self-proclaimed basketball historian who, upon transferring to Maryland from Xavier before last season, started studying his predecessors like Juan Dixon and Len Bias.
“I’ve always been like that,” he said. “Whenever you go somewhere, what you leave behind should be important. When I came here, I thought about the guys like Juan Dixon, I was in awe when I first saw him coming to practice. It was a great experience. You should really care how you leave a place behind. Things like that are really important to me and I care about the legacy because I’m a part of that now. You should care about the place that you are.”
Lefty Driesell was here, flashing his “V for victory’ sign as he walked alone to midcourt. Gary Williams too, embracing Driesell with a high-five. Then Mark Turgeon, just the third coach in program history, imitated Driesell’s trademark V and Williams’s famed fist-pump.
“I thought it was a fantastic night, what I expected,” he said. “A lot of great memories, a lot of energy in the building. Our players loved it, former players loved it, I think the fans loved it. It was a great night for Maryland basketball.
“I don’t get excited for Maryland Madness or Texas A&M Madness or Wichita State Shocker Madness, whatever we called it. But tonight I was real excited. I was excited during practice, I was excited after practice, I was excited when I walked into the building. Tonight was a cool night. It was one of those nights you’ll remember.”
Said women’s Coach Brenda Frese: “Going into year 12, I just think the appreciation you come away with, for me it was pretty powerful. To think about the memories for so many people, as they came in here, having coached here, having the past in front of us. What a special way, as we finish here in the ACC and get ready to go to the Big Ten, it kind of blended it all together. I thought it was perfect.”
The relaxed scrimmage, featuring plenty of layups and dunks, featured another jump back in time. Every player wore jerseys with the names of former players on the back. Jon Graham got his father, Ernie, who once dropped a school-record 44 points against North Carolina State at Cole. Conner Lipinski had Drew Nicholas’s No. 12, even though it was spelled “Nicholis.” Charles Mitchell’s was blank, because no one wore No. 0 inside this building.
“I’d like to say it was my [idea],” Turgeon said. “The marketing people, along with members of the women’s basketball staff and men’s staff put this whole night together. If it was too long I’d have someone to blame, but they did a great job with the shirts. I thought it was great.”
An alumni game featuring Dixon, Byron Mouton, Walt Williams, John Gilchrist and others brought the memories back. So did video testimony of Maryland Madness memories, which was invented long ago by Driesell. A timeline segment honored every season inside Cole, ending with the 2002 national championship team that closed the doors on the highest possible note. Then on came the women’s team, Frese and her predecessors Dottie McKnight and Chris Weller, and finally the men, none more impressive than Wells, whose smooch he said was a “token of appreciation for all the guys who came before me” and tasted just fine.
“Well I didn’t lick it,” Wells said. “But it was great.”