Why does it matter if Maryland plays Georgetown in the regular season? I asked two heroes from the teams’ last local regular season meeting — Duane Simpkins, who hit the game-winning shot in overtime, and Gary Williams, who so memorably celebrated a win that helped put his program back on track.
“If I could change one thing about college basketball right now it would be games like Georgetown and Maryland should be as important as any game you play all year,” Williams said. “And that’s true for North Carolina playing Kentucky, or for Duke playing Michigan State. I don’t care what month you play them in; they’re great college basketball games. And true college basketball fans want these games. They understand the significance of Georgetown playing Maryland or Duke playing Kentucky. I think they’re important for college basketball. You want fans there the whole season; you don’t just want them there for three weeks in March.”
Indeed, this game is clearly the biggest D.C. sporting event of the week, and we don’t often say that about college basketball games in mid-November. It’s also the second straight night an all-local matchup featuring a top 10 team will be on national television, which can’t hurt the visibility of the local game.
Simpkins — now an assistant at George Mason — offered another reason. Moments like that 1993 game — memorable finishes against local rivals with large TV audiences and electric crowds — are part of what add texture and heft to a college basketball program, making it more than just an annual collection of changing faces. He compared a meaningful local rivalry to his own feelings about Len Bias; something that is now burned into his sense of the program.
“There was a generation or two that was lost, of local kids that had no remembrance of that [rivalry],” he said. “Because they didn’t renew the rivalry, didn’t keep it going year in and year out, [today’s players] have no concept of it. … When you put on that Maryland jersey, you’re not just representing your team at that point in time; you’re representing the Tom McMillens and Walt Williamses and Joe Smiths and Buck Williamses of the world. … I cried when Len Bias died. I still get chills when I hear his name. In order to have that team pride, that program pride, you’ve got to have something that really resonates.”
Simpkins actually grew up a Georgetown fan, like so many other kids in the ’80s; he had the Georgetown starter jacket and the Georgetown hat and loved Patrick Ewing and Michael Graham and Gene Smith, and wanted to go to Georgetown. Keith Gatlin and Bias changed his allegiance, and like so many other fans of the local game, he thinks this meeting is “well overdue.”
Simpkins said he remembers the 1993 game “like it was yesterday,” and he quickly eases into the memory: “having the ball in my left hand, going between my legs, going to the basket, that’s ingrained in my mind,” he said. He’s done 10 or 12 interviews about his magical layup in the last three weeks, reliving the memory and passing on some of the history to the Patriots, none of whom had any idea about this.
“Damn coach, that was a big-time shot,” one of George Mason’s players said after watching the YouTube clip. “So it’s cool for me,” Simpkins said. “It might even help me as far as having a conversation starter in recruiting. I’m going to use it to my advantage as long as I possibly can.”
Williams and some of the players from that team are expected in College Park Tuesday night; the former coach said rivalries like this are “part of the sports fabric in the country,” and that the evening will “bring back a lot of memories for me.”
Simpkins has been happily reliving those memories for weeks.
“This is why, in part, I wanted to go to the University of Maryland, is to be remembered as part of the group that helped turn things around,” the former point guard said. “And for it to be celebrated and remembered like this is a true honor. It’s really humbling.”