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‘He was the guy’: Over 35 years after tragic passing, Len Bias’ legacy lives on in College Park

On June 17, 1986, Len Bias was selected second overall by the Boston Celtics in the NBA Draft, after an All-American collegiate career as a part of Maryland basketball. 

But he would never play a game at the professional level.

Two days after being drafted, Bias died as a result of an overdose, and his legacy became one of the great “what ifs” of the sport.

“I think we all, guys in the business, guys in the NBA, guys that knew the game, felt like he had a chance to be one of those [great] players,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “Whether he was the G.O.A.T or whether he was top five or whether he was top ten, it’s pretty good. We’ll never know. We know he was a great college player, [and] helped Maryland win a lot of games.”

Bias played for Maryland for four seasons, from 1982 to 1986, becoming one of the greatest in the history of the program. In his junior season, he was a consensus second team All-American, before making the first team as a senior. 

He was also All-ACC in each of those seasons, and a back-to-back ACC player of the year, cementing himself as one of the top talents across the country.

“To me, Len Bias, I know exactly where I was when he passed away,” Turgeon said. “It’s been a while, for him to get into the college basketball hall of fame is great. One of the all time great college basketball players.”

Just over 35 years after his death, Maryland men’s basketball has made it a point to educate their players on Bias’ legacy on the hardwood.

‘’Incredible hard worker, great talent,” forward Donta Scott said. “Just a great guy to look up to.”

The impact Bias left behind was more than just on the court. For a generation of college basketball fans in College Park, he was a legend.

Joe Yasharoff, a 1987 University of Maryland graduate and current adjunct professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, was mesmerized by Bias during his time as a student.

“He was the guy,” Yasharoff said. “No team can win but with one player, but if you have a player like Len Bias you have a chance to go far.”

Bias’ play was so exciting to Yasharoff, an avid fan of basketball, it even drove him to try out for the men’s team.

“I was in awe of him so much that I tried out for the basketball team his senior year in 1986, as a walk-on,” Yasharoff said. “I’m [six-foot-five] and that’s about the end of the list of the reasons I should’ve made the team. I wanted to be his teammate.”

While Bias was a legend back then, his abilities and story still serve as inspiration to this day around Maryland, whether on the basketball court or just on the campus in general.

“To be able to wear the same jersey as [Bias], it’s definitely special,” guard Eric Ayala said.

The Terps will honor Bias’ legacy when they take on Virginia Tech in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Wednesday at 7:15 pm. The first 4,000 students will receive replica Len Bias jerseys, as his legacy is celebrated by a new generation in College Park.

“He was the man,” Yasharoff said. “Capital ‘T’, capital ‘M’.”