ATLANTA - The attitudes seemed almost nonchalant. Maryland had just won its first national championship, and the players appeared no more thrilled than if they'd just beaten Clemson in January.
"It's a dream come true," they all said because everybody says that after winning the NCAA Tournament.
But in the corner of the locker room, stretched out in his tailored suit, one Terrapin assistant coach understood the true depth of Monday night's 64-52 victory over Indiana at the Georgia Dome. Better than anyone else in the room, Dave Dickerson appreciated where Maryland was at that particular moment. He appreciated it because he knew first-hand where Maryland had been.
"My career at Maryland?" Dickerson says with that look of someone still struggling to come to grips with something that happened a long time ago. "Are you kidding me. The Len Bias situation. Bob Wade. It was ..."
It was awful. Dickerson arrived at Maryland as a freshman from Olar, S.C., during Bias' senior season. Bias, a 6-8 forward some still argue was the best to ever play in the ACC, died in his dormitory room from a cocaine overdose just days after he was drafted No. 2 overall by the Boston Celtics. The ensuing internal investigation revealed academic control problems Maryland addressed with severe restrictions and the firing of head coach Lefty Driesell.
Then in Dickerson's final three seasons under head coach Bob Wade, a scandal involving NCAA rules violations brought sterner sanctions including no live television for a year, two years without NCAA Tournament eligibility and recruiting limitations.
"Maryland went through one of the biggest hits probably of any school in the history of college basketball," Dickerson says. "To be national champions out of our conference and to erase the stigma that the University of Maryland has had since the Len Bias tragedy, it's probably one of the biggest accomplishments in college basketball."
Coupled with the in-house shackles, the vise on the program was so strong that Gary Williams admitted he would never have left Ohio State to return to his alma mater as coach in 1989 if he'd known the extent of the damage beforehand.
"I thought I'd ruined my career," Williams has said.
Dickerson saw all the bad before he graduated. He even watched from the stands as Williams conducted his first Terrapin practice, not knowing then that seven years later Williams would bring him back to Maryland as an assistant.
"When the Bias tragedy happened, there's no way that I thought that we would be here right now, or that I would be here," Dickerson said Monday, a national champions cap on his head with a piece of netting tied to the back. "I remember that day like it was yesterday."
Now he can remember yesterday - the day Maryland exorcised the demons of Bias and Wade and a lifetime of never winning the big one. The day Maryland fulfilled a year-long quest to redeem itself from a devastating Final Four loss to Duke. The day Maryland became a big-time college basketball program - no strings attached.
"This changes the whole Maryland mind-set," Dickerson said. "People laugh at me when I tell them, but I think Gary Williams should be given a purple heart or something. The job that he's done from 1989 until now is mind boggling."
Len Bias has been dead for 16 years. On Monday night, Maryland finally buried him.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or email@example.com.