How Michael Jordan almost ended up as a Terp

Josh Stirn

There’s a lot of what-if scenarios in the history of Maryland basketball recruiting, the most well-known one centered around Moses Malone’s decision to head straight to the professional ranks after signing with the Terps, but it’s hard to top this nugget that emerged in the wake of ESPN’s docuseries “The Last Dance”. 

According to Buzz Peterson, Michael Jordan’s roommate at North Carolina and the current assistant general manager of the Charlotte Hornets, Maryland was one of the other schools Jordan considered attending out of high school, and “His Airness” even visited the school’s campus on the way home from the Five-Star Basketball Camp near Pittsburgh before he committed to the Tar Heels. "He was interested in Maryland," Peterson told the Washington City Paper last week. "Maryland was one that he would talk about." 

Maryland coach Lefty Driesell -- perhaps knowing the Terps were likely a longshot to lure the prized shooting guard out of his home state despite his reported interest after seeing North Carolina gear covering the walls in his room -- tried a tactical recruiting move to round out his roster with one of three top recruits. He dangled his last open scholarship to Jordan, Peterson and Jeff Adkins, telling each of them that the first to claim it could take the spot. Adkins, who along with Peterson was a Parade All-American, was the first to bite. He joined a Terps’ recruiting class that also included Adrian Branch, who has an interesting connection to Jordan as well, Peterson told The City Paper. Branch earned co-MVP of the McDonald’s All-American, and true to form, Jordan -- who scored 30 points, including the game-winning free throws -- used that perceived slight as motivation every time he played against Maryland. Peterson said he wanted to beat the Terps during his college days even more than he did bitter in-state rival Duke. 

“When he didn’t get MVP, he was hot,” Peterson said. “Michael’s always looking for something to get an edge, to get motivated about. He never had to get motivated to play Maryland. If I was in a room with him, and I’d say, 'Wichita,' he knew what I was talking about.” Adkins went on to start 92 games for the Terps, averaging 7.6 points and 2.8 assists per game. But what if Jordan took his spot and joined Branch and then, a year later, two-time ACC Player of the Year Len Bias? That’s a what-if that Terp players from that era probably aren’t interested in pondering after Jordan went 5-1 against them and challenged their competitive spirits. 

“We had something for that alpha dog, woof, woof,” Branch told The City Paper. “You can’t knock his success, God bless him and his family. But all that super-suit, Jordan stuff don’t fly over here. We wanted them as badly as they wanted us. We’d shake their hands win or lose. It was a healthy competitive respect. But no love lost. When he came to town, we were ready with one foot down, and another foot up. We weren’t no passive dudes.”

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