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Local basketball fans were supposed to be thrilled when the Wizards drafted Juan Dixon. Folks who know the history of the home team could see things differently.
If past is prologue, the feel-good portion of Dixon’s pro career might already be over. The record of Maryland Terrapins who became Bullets or Wizards is horrendous. A host of players who had pretty good careers in College Park went anonymous after hooking up with Abe Pollin’s squad—guys such as Will Hetzel, Larry Boston, Howard White, Obinna Ekezie, and Laron Profit.
Dixon obviously was far more than pretty good. But the truly damning reality is that most of the greatest players in Maryland hoops history have been drafted or signed by the team, and none have ever recaptured their Cole Field House glories in a Bullets/Wizards uniform.
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Len Elmore: The Terps center was voted All-ACC three times, back when the NCAA allowed only three seasons of varsity eligibility. He remains the career rebounding leader at Maryland and the only player in school history with more than 1,000 rebounds. Like Dixon, he was a first-team All-American as a senior and a notoriously good guy off the court. The Bullets made area fans happy by taking the local hero with their top selection in the 1974 draft. That pick went utterly to waste, however. Elmore shunned the home team—the franchise had just moved from Baltimore to the new Capital Centre—and signed with the Indiana Pacers of the ABA. He played 10 years of pro ball, none in Washington.
Tom McMillen: McMillen was at one time the most highly recruited schoolboy in the country—he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a senior at Pennsylvania’s Mansfield High. He put Maryland on the basketball map when he signed with Lefty Driesell. He was a three-time All-American and left campus in 1974 as the school’s all-time leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, behind only Elmore. McMillen, though coming from a program not known for its academics, was named a Rhodes Scholar after his senior season. He was drafted in the first round by the NBA’s Buffalo Braves.
McMillen made it known around the league that he intended to eventually run for Congress, and Pollin accommodated that career plan by bringing the ex-Terp back to Washington on draft day in 1983.The Bullets gave up a first-round pick (Scott Wittman) to get McMillen. The angular, prematurely gray forward was most renowned for the pointy elbows he wielded while in uniform here, and the most notable achievement of his local hoops career came when he was ejected from a game for going toe to toe with the far larger bruiser Darryl Dawkins during a tilt with New Jersey. McMillen kept his eyes on the prize during his time with the Bullets, however, and shortly after hanging up his elbow pads was elected to represent Maryland’s 4th Congressional District in 1986.
John Lucas: Probably the finest athlete to ever hit College Park, Lucas was a three-time All-ACC player and an All-American guard under Driesell, and even an All-American tennis player. He left as Maryland’s top career scorer and assists leader. Lucas was the first player picked in the 1976 NBA draft, when he was taken by Houston. He was brought back to Washington in October 1981 after his second team, the Warriors, gave up on him for missing practices and games. Lucas attributed the blown appointments to such things as “the flu” and “depression,” though rumors around the league suggested drug addiction. He didn’t wait long to start missing practices and games here, using excuses including “car trouble.” After no-showing a practice in January 1983, Lucas ‘fessed up to Bullets management that cocaine was at the root of his irresponsibility. He was immediately cut.
Albert King: The younger brother of Bernard King was a high school All-American and regarded as the best prep player in the country during his days with Fort Hamilton (N.Y.) High. After Driesell lured him to College Park, King lived up to billing. As a Terp, King was named ACC Player of the Year in 1980 (beating out hated Virginia center Ralph Sampson), as well as all-ACC and All-American in 1980 and 1981. He broke Lucas’ career scoring record with 2,058 points. The Nets made King their first pick of the 1981 draft, but his pro career was decidedly spotty. A Washington Post story from his early days as a Net quoted then-coach Larry Brown telling Bullets coach Gene Shue that King was “shooting so poorly other teams won’t even guard him.” The Bullets, who have seemingly always had a healthy supply of folks with that kind of shooting touch, signed King in 1991. He was playing with the Albany Patroons of the CBA at the time, and the hope was that a reunion with then-Bullet Bernard and his old Terps fans would cause King to tap into his unrealized pro potential. It didn’t work. After just six games, in which he shot about 30 percent from the field, King was cut to make room for another former local hero and future Bullets bust: Virginia’s Sampson.
Recent reports have the Wizards looking at Walt Williams, a free-agent guard. Williams, a journeyman pro who played last season with Houston, left College Park in 1992 with an assortment of school scoring records. Uh-oh. —Dave McKenna