As the profile has risen for the Maryland men’s basketball program during the last couple of seasons, so has the number of legendary former players who have made their returns to College Park, Md., after lengthy absences.
Former NBA No. 1 overall pick and Naismith College Player of the Year Joe Smith made his first appearance at Xfinity Center last November. After spending a few years away from the program, two-time NCAA tournament Regional Most Outstanding Player Lonny Baxter was back on campus last year to finish his criminal justice degree.
And on what may have otherwise been a largely forgettable night when the Terrapins hosted Howard Dec. 7, another Terps legend made a long-awaited return to College Park.
“I’m happy to be here, that was my first time in 10 years [and I was honorary] captain for the day,” Adrian Branch said. “I’m a Terp, man.”
Branch played at Maryland from 1982-85. He tallied 2,017 points during his time with the Terps — one of only six players in school history to reach the 2,000-point mark for his career. He averaged 13 points per game as part of the 1984 team that won one of only three ACC tournament championships in school history. That team and his 1985 team both reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, as well.
He went on to spend four seasons in the NBA, winning an NBA championship with the Lakers in 1987. He has also had a successful career as a broadcaster, including spending roughly the last decade (since 2007) as a studio and game analyst for ESPN.
It was that career that brought him back to College Park for the Howard game, as he worked the ESPNU broadcast. His absence from Xfinity Center has not come due to exile but instead due to distance. Branch and his family now live in Phoenix after previously being based in North Carolina.
There was something different about Branch’s return than Smith’s or Baxter’s. It was also different than for any of the five players who have also scored 2,000 points or more in Maryland history. As when Branch returned, he didn’t find his jersey hanging in the Xfinity Center rafters to greet him.
Theories exist as to why Branch hasn’t joined the 18 other players who have been recognized by the school with such an honor. Players didn’t typically receive the honor so quickly during the era when Branch played. There have been multiple coaching changes since Branch played under Lefty Driesell, and since he’s moved out of the area, the younger crowd hasn’t known as much about Branch as a player to create such a vocal push.
To his credit, Branch, a deeply religious man, hasn’t allowed the snub to impact his love and appreciation for his alma mater.
“It’s all beautiful,” Branch said. “If Maryland never did another thing for me, I’ve got my wife from the University of Maryland. We’ve been together 31 years, next month it will be 32 years.
“If Maryland never did another thing for me, man, I love my Terps. I love these young guys. It’s their turn. It’s all good. It’s even. I got my wife — that’s the greatest thing I could get from Maryland.”
While taking the high road, Branch acknowledged some Maryland fans are perhaps even more upset than he is about the slight.
“I understand the talk,” Branch said. “That’s not on me. The 2,000 points and the MVPs. If it was that easy, everybody would do it. But you know what? I’m not going to soak up all of the oxygen, I promise you.”
The Washington, D.C., native and DeMatha alum was twice named an honorable mention All-American in addition to being first team All-ACC as a senior. Before arriving at Maryland, he was actually the MVP of the McDonald’s High School All-American game.
Does he ever wonder why he hasn’t received what seems to be a rightful honor?
“Really, it’s not for me,” Branch said. “I would be a broken record. I love my Terps. I’m passionate about Maryland. Whatever they want to do for that thing, God bless them.”
Maryland seems likely to eventually get Branch’s jersey in the Xfinity Center rafters. In addition to broadcasting the win against Howard, Branch also spoke to the team while he was in town. He’s made appearances at camps with head coach Mark Turgeon. While there are no concrete plans for such recognition currently, it appears to be more a case of “when” than “if,” as the University clearly still holds Branch in high regard as a player and a person. It seems highly likely Branch is high on Maryland’s list of players who would receive such a distinction.
In Branch’s case, this particular honor won’t impact his love of the program and the fanbase.
“For Adrian, I emptied out all of the barrels,” Branch said. “So whatever people want to do, the Twitter-heads [who support me having my jersey recognized], thank you. If [fans] want to put it up, thank you. If they don’t, it won’t change anything. I still love Maryland.”