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Maryland Has Become a Shell of Its Former Self
At the time, missing out on Boone appeared inconsequential. Maryland capped the 2003-04 season with its first ACC tournament title in 20 years. Gilchrist, then a sophomore, claimed ACC tournament MVP honors and appeared set to lead the Terrapins to continued success.
Maryland advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament before falling, 72-70, to Syracuse. A few weeks later, Connecticut won the national championship with Boone, who started all but one game during his freshman season and was named to the Big East all-rookie team, playing a significant role.
In April 2004, Patsos was hired as head coach at Loyola College in Baltimore. He left College Park after 13 seasons as an assistant, joining Hahn as the second member of what once was a long-standing, incredibly solid recruiting corps to depart in the previous three years.
"The key was we had continuity," said Hahn, now an assistant coach at West Virginia. "We did a good job of identifying kids that Gary could relate to, that fit his system. We knew each other. We knew the strengths and weaknesses of each [assistant]. We were together for 12 years. That's a long time."
Matt Kovarik, a Maryland assistant for three years, left to join Patsos at Loyola.
In place of Patsos and Kovarik, Williams hired Mike Lonergan and Keith Booth, both of whom had strong local ties. Lonergan was the head coach at Catholic University for 12 seasons, leading the Cardinals to the Division III national championship in 2001, while Booth grew up in Baltimore and played at Maryland from 1993 to '97.
But unity among the newly formed staff was not strong. A source close to the program during the 2004-05 season described the relationships as noncohesive. The togetherness of the team was not much better. The relationship between Williams and Gilchrist deteriorated, as neither could agree on how the offense should be run. Garrison, McCray and Caner-Medley had become uneven players, regular starters but not the stars many envisioned. Strawberry, the squad's top defender, missed the second half of the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in late January. As a result, the Terrapins faded down the stretch.
In danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1993 -- then the longest active streak in the ACC -- Maryland entered the conference tournament needing to make another run. Seemingly in the Terrapins' favor was the fact that the event was being played for the first time in the District, at what was then known as MCI Center. After years of playing in front of hostile crowds in Charlotte and Greensboro, N.C., Williams finally had his wish: the ACC tournament on his turf.
It didn't last long: In the first game of the event, ninth-seeded Clemson beat eighth-seeded Maryland for the third time that season, the Terrapins' fourth straight loss overall. The first ACC tournament in the District was barely three hours old, but Maryland had been eliminated. The streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances was over.
The Terrapins would advance to the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament, but the season was viewed widely as a disappointment. Dave Dickerson, an assistant under Williams for nine seasons, left to become the head coach at Tulane, while Lonergan took the head coaching position at Vermont. Gilchrist declared for the NBA draft, but was not selected. He later signed with a pro team in Israel.
About 600 miles from College Park, Deron Williams, the guard Maryland allowed to slip away, earned second-team all-American honors while helping to lead Illinois to the national championship game.
That error in talent evaluation had become clear. Less apparent was the fact that the Terrapins were about to make the same mistake again, this time closer to home.