Maryland great Juan Dixon looks back to 2002, ahead to Kansas

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 1: Juan Dixon #3 of the University of Maryland Terrapins celebrates by cutting down the net after the men's NCAA National Championship game against the Indiana University Hoosiers at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia on April 1, 2002. Maryland defeated Indiana 64-52 winning the National Championship. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/ Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Maryland is back in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003. The Terps will tip off against Kansas in Louisville on Thursday night with a trip to the Elite 8 on the line.

Maryland hasn’t been to the Elite 8 since 2002, the year they won the National Championship. During its tournament run that year, a Kansas team coached by Roy Williams stood in their way from a trip to the title game.

Juan Dixon, the 2002 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, is now a special assistant to Mark Turgeon on Maryland’s coaching staff. Dixon played in back to back Final Fours his junior and senior years and brings a lot of experience to the job. He vividly remembers that 2002 run to the National Championship and had no hesitation answering what happened the last time these two teams met.

“We defeated them in the 2002 Final Four to march on to the 2002 National Championship Game against Indiana…and we won.”

They did, by a count of 97-88.

Kansas started very strong and jumped out to a double-digit lead, but Juan doesn’t want to hear anything from Kansas fans who still think they should have won that game.

“Not even close,” he said. “The game of basketball is about runs. They had their run early, we made our run after that, and we maintained our lead. They were a very good team, but we were a hungry team. We lost the previous year to Duke in the Final Four so we knew what it took to get over that mountain and achieve what we did in 2002. No, they didn’t deserve to win that game.”

Does he see any similarities in this game compared to the game he played in back in 2002?

“Our Maryland basketball team this year is extremely talented, well coached,” he said. “The same for Kansas. They were two very well coached, talented teams back in 2002. It’s going to be a lot of fun, it’s just that coach Turgeon is playing against his alma mater. That’s a little bit different, but he’s played against them and competed against them before.”

As far as Dixon’s message to this year’s team, it was all about taking in the opportunity.

“Guys, enjoy the moment,” he said. “There’s only 16 teams left,  have a lot of fun doing this.  But at the same time coach is going to give them a game plan to execute and they have to go out and do it.”

Players have benefited all year from Dixon’s knowledge and experience. It doesn’t get any bigger than this, playing on this stage against the tournament’s number one overall seed. Dixon expects some of the players to seek him out for a little advice before the game on Thursday.

“They probably will ask me questions,” he said. “But the guys are well prepared. The staff has done a unbelievable job throughout the year preparing the guys for this moment. They just have to go out and compete and execute at a high level.”

In a game of this magnitude, Dixon knows there isn’t room for error.

“The little things will make a big difference,” he said. “Both teams are going to play extremely hard. Both teams are going to compete on both sides of the floor, but Its the little things that coaches have been talking about all year. We have to box out, we have to get the loose balls. It’s going to come down to a possession or two, hopefully, and hopefully we come out on top.”

If anyone knows what it takes to win in March, Dixon does.

Maryland has considered itself an elite team all year. Thursday night they get a chance to prove it against a very good basketball team.

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George Wallace

George Wallace is the WTOP sports director. He began at WTOP on Christmas Day of 2000.

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