Steve Blake to play in Maryland Madness
Minutes before boarding a plane to his alma mater, Lakers guard Steve Blake immediately flashed back to moments during his All-ACC career at the University of Maryland.
He took a cross-country trip from Portland, Ore., to College Park, Md., Thursday afternoon because he will appear in the Terrapins' "Maryland Madness" Friday evening at Comcast Center, a scrimmage featuring the current squad against a handful of the 2002 championship team, including Juan Dixon, Byron Mouton, Chris Wilcox and, of course, Blake. But the event will mean much more to Blake than holding up his prediction that "I think we'll do great" against the current Terps.
It also allows him to reconnect with his alma mater in ways that have proved difficult during his eight-year NBA career. Blake's return to University of Maryland will mark plenty of firsts. They include visiting campus for the first time since 2009, seeing former Terrapins Coach Gary Williams for the first time since his retirement in May, meeting with new Coach Mark Turgeon for the first time and gathering with his old teammates.
"Everyone was so motivated," Blake said in a phone interview. Maryland beat Indiana in the title game, one year after losing to Duke in the Final Four. "The second we were in the locker room after we lost [to Duke], we were all so heartbroken. But we all knew we were coming back. That motivated us for the whole summer. I had never seen guys work so hard to get better. The work wasn't done until we won that championship."
Maryland is much different than when Blake became the first ACC player to compile 1,000 points, 800 assists, 400 rebounds and 200 steals. The current Maryland roster features only two scholarship seniors and little frontcourt depth, after Jordan Williams left for the NBA. But Blake said, "They'll play with heart and play hard." The new-look ACC will soon feature Syracuse and Pittsburgh, which Blake says "definitely" makes the league stronger. And after guiding the Terps to a national championship in Blake's junior season, two Final Fours and 14 NCAA tournament appearances, Williams will no longer pace the sideline.
"I was sad to see him retire," Blake said. "Whenever I think of Maryland basketball I think of him and all the ways he helped me out. But if he's happy, I'm happy for him. His legacy will be he turned a program like Maryland around into a national powerhouse. Every single year, he got the best out of his players."
That success contrasts with Blake's current play, fresh off a season in which he shot just 35.9%, his lowest shooting percentage since the 2006-07 season. But there's still some things that remain the same. A recent video that went viral showed Blake in college fighting former Terps teammate John Gilchrist in practice, an incident Blake said will likely spark laughs during his reunion weekend.
"I didn't know there was a video out there," said Blake, who added he and Gilchrist have gotten along since. "After nine years, you would think someone would've posted it a long time ago. I was more shocked than anything and I was just laughing about it. I was surprised at the amount of people that saw it and watched the video. I didn't know it would have that kind of impact."
That's all the reminiscing Blake has for now. He had a plane to catch. But the memories will continue throughout the weekend.
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Photo: Tom Hevezi, Associated Press / October 4, 2010