It started with a tweet from Comcast Sportsnet executive Joe Yasharoff (@jyash), who wrote “I’m thinking Melo Trimble could be the 2nd best freshman in Terps’ hoops history. Joe Smith being #1 of course. @kevins980 (Kevin Sheehan) discuss.”
Kevin responded with “@jyash Brad Davis and Adrian Branch in that conversation.”
I decided to butt in (@andypollin1) with “Fellas! Do you know how good John Lucas was? Freshman year went to Elite 8. Lost to Ernie D team (Providence) that went to Final 4.”
And so it went until all three of us, bucking the trend of twitter wars, agreed that if we had to pick one, Joe Smith would be the pick. That got me interested in comparing Smith to the other great freshmen who played basketball at Maryland.
First you have to recognize three great players who never got the opportunity to play varsity as freshmen. It wasn’t until 1972 that freshmen eligibility was reinstated by the NCAA. Gene Shue, who played in the early 50’s and Tom McMillen and Len Elmore, who played in the early 70’s, weren’t allowed to play varsity as freshmen. All three became All Americans and played at least a decade in the NBA.
Now let’s put up Smith’s freshman numbers:
1993 – 94 19.4 ppg, 10.7 reb, 73% ft
A year later Smith was the consensus National Collegiate Player of the Year and became the number one overall pick in the NBA draft.
Here are Trimble’s numbers so far as a freshman:
2014 – 15 16.1 ppg, 3.1 asst, 88% ft
Mentioned as being in “that conversation” by Kevin:
1974 – 75 12.6 ppg, 58% fg, 82% ft
1981 – 82 15.2 ppg, 76% ft
Offered by me:
1972 – 73 14.2 ppg, 54% fg, 70% ft
Lucas was the point guard on the team that included McMillen and Elmore as juniors. In their senior year and his sophomore year, the Terps may have had their best team ever, but lost a classic overtime game to North Carolina State in the ACC Final. Only the conference tournament winner went to the NCAA Tournament in those days. NC State went on to win the National Championship. Maryland stayed home. The following year the rules were changed to allow at-large teams.
Now for some other names that should be included in the conversation. If you’re thinking Len Bias and Juan Dixon, think again. Though Bias is regarded as the best Maryland player ever, and Dixon isn’t far behind, both were role players as freshmen. Each averaged just over seven points a game. But here are some others who deserve a look for their freshmen years:
Albert King, who was the number one recruit in the country when he came out of high school in Brooklyn:
1977 – 78 16.7 ppg, 6.7 reb
Buck Williams, who joined King a year later, was the number three pick of the NBA draft in 1981 and went to an 18-year pro career:
1978 – 79 10.0 ppg, 10.8 reb
1999 – 00 7.0 ppg, 6.1 asst
Not much on the scoring end for Blake, but he quarterbacked a team that had plenty of scorers. Juan Dixon, Terrance Morris and Lonny Baxter all averaged at least 15 points a game. That team went 25-10, lost to UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and was ranked 17th in the final AP poll.
Finally, I’d have to agree with Joe (@jyash), who offered the final word in our tweet up: “Melo is definitely top 5. As high as #2. Smith has the top spot for me.”
But what about the rest? Here’s how I’d go:
1974 – 75 Moses Malone. Attended only one class at Maryland, never played a game in college and broke Lefty Driesell and every Terps fans’ hearts by going to the ABA. But hey, we can dream of what might have been. Right?
Additions? Disagreements? Let me know at @andypollin1.