The New Gary

Before getting into this, let me say once again that I love Gary Williams.  He is the best coach in the history of our program and is a Hall of Famer.  He is who he is and will always be more comfortable coaching character guys than guys who are using the school as a stepping stool to the NBA and end up being there for a cup of coffee.  He likes ‘his type of player’.  Until Wednesday’s horrendous loss, this year’s team looked like a ‘Gary’ team.  They had major flaws which we all know about, but they worked hard on defense and were going to give it one hell of a shot to return to the NCAA tournament.  Whether that happens now remains to be seen.  This loss was the first time this season the team regressed.  We will find out pretty quick on Saturday whether they are going to let it consume them like last year or will they get back to what works.

Now that I’ve said that, I have a major problem with what Gary Williams has become in the past few years.  College Basketball has changed.  With the mid-majors become more of a threat, the days of the big conference’s dominating has ended.  The days when all you needed to do was finish 8-8 in the ACC to make the tourney are over.  You need a solid resume with big wins and very few bad losses. 

The problem with Gary these days is the fact that he cannot accept that.  Gary seems to think he has to complain to the media week after week to try and convince them or those in the selection committee that Maryland should be an NCAA tournment team just because they are in the ACC.  Well, we might have been better than some of the teams that have made the tournament in our NIT years, but you can’t say we deserved to be in and got robbed.  Other schools can say that, we can’t.

In earlier years, Gary would complain that the ACC regular season champ should be the focus and not the ACC tournament champ.  Obviously he said that because Maryland would routinely choke in the tourney.  Since we won the ACC tournament back in 2004, I don’t recall much complaining about that anymore.

Now it’s been replaced by the ‘we deserve to be in the Top 25″ and “we play one of the toughest schedules in the country” and “we beat UNC on their floor last year”.  Well, that is getting old quick.  These days, Gary seems to be in desperation mode and the powers that be are picking up on it.  All the pandering got us 25 votes in the AP Poll last week and that only equated to 3 journalists putting Maryland on their ballots. 

In my opinion, this attitude has made Gary and our school look bad.  If we want to return to prominence, we should shut our mouths and win games.   Winning is what will get us where we want to be.  I know none of us want to be a team that barely gets into the NCAA tournament every year.  We want to be a team that has a chance to go to the Final 4. 

As for Gary’s future, I believe he deserves the right to try and get the program back on top.  His rededication to recruiting has been a nice surprise, but we’ll see where this gets us.  We need to win this year to get those all important 2010 guys.  If we go into the tank, you can kiss those big time recruits goodbye and I would not blame them.  I would hope those guys would see the potential of the program and coming here would help in its resurgence, but we’ll see. 

In my opinon, all this Gary talk will likely be over in no more than 5 years.  Gary is getting older and he seems like a guy who will eventually be content in being a TV analyst or amateur golfer before long.  This is his swan song.  I don’t see him coaching that much longer no matter how the team does. 

My hope is that by the time he leaves, we can look right to Notre Dame and bring in Mike Brey.  I think he’s the guy to take over at that point.  Perhaps Chuck Driesell will be a good head coach eventually, but I think he needs more seasoning.  This will be a discussion in the future, but unless the team has a monumental collapse, I can’t imagine it will be soon.  So Gary will be here and I have no problem with that.  I want to see him rebound and end his coaching career on top because he deserves it.  Starting in 1989, has been everything we wanted in a coach and more.  He did what Lefty never could.  We have banners flying high in a state-of-the-art arena (that should be filled with screaming fans and students, no matter who the opponent!) and that’s thanks in part to Gary Williams.

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Jordan Williams Commits to Maryland

As has been widely reported; Jordan Williams verbally committed to Gary Williams today. It was also reported that Gary Williams had no idea what Jordan was committing to; as it had been that long since Gary had actually recruited anyone. OK, I made that up. I couldn’t resist.

Seriously, this is a huge win for Maryland and in particular Coach Williams. Everyone knows how much he hates to recruit, but Gary clearly put in the time with this kid. He made Jordan feel wanted and really sold the program.

Jordan Williams is a guy you build around. Maryland can place him alongside fellow recruit James Padgett and boom; there is Maryland’s froncourt for the next four years.

Now, I haven’t had the chance to see Jordan Williams play; I will defer to the more knowledgable on that front. I just know the following: He is a big-time recruit of the four-star variety. Can someone name me that last four-star big man that Gary Williams nabbed out of high school from a state other than Maryland? (for the record, James Gist was a four-star player out of Good Counsel in Wheaton, MD in 2004). My guess is Chris Wilcox, but that is going back to 2000. (Can someone verify this?)

So to recap, this is the first top quality big man THIS DECADE (Wilcox signed his LOI in 1999) that Gary Williams has recruited. The last sentence tells you everything you need to know about the last five years of Maryland Basketball.

As such, I’m excited for what the Jordan Williams saga symbolozes: a rededicated Gary Williams. He has seen the error of his ways and has put forth the necessary effort to bring home the bacon. The fact that he was rewarded with Jordan Williams saying “yes” proves that hard work pays off. I’m sure that Jordan Williams will be great and hopefully, his name will hang from the rafters one day. For now, I’m just going to celebrate the fact that a 63 year-old man still has the fight in him to succeed in the ACC.

Maybe the tide has turned for the Terps. The start of the season is a month away and there will be plenty of locker room material in the form of preseason predictions to motivate the team. One thing is for certain. The coach still has the desire to win.

Garyland on Life Support?

This has been the hardest post I’ve ever had to write. For anyone who has read my thoughts over the past years, I have always been a Gary Williams apologist. I trusted in the coach that brought Maryland basketball back from the brink and gave us our National Championship. I loved the guy who was so good to my friends and I in the mid 90’s during the hoops resurgence. I never would have thought I would EVER say these words, but….

I think it might be time that the Terps move on with a new head basketball coach.

Now I don’t say this because I think Gary is a bad guy. He’s the best coach the school has ever had. And I do not blame Gary totally for the troubles of the past few years. He is still a great basketball coach and can teach kids to play the game and play it tough. The problem I see is that one of the most important parts of being a college coach today has passed him by.

Gary was never a great recruiter. As stated before, he has not really been one to ‘play the game’, get personally involved and kiss up to young kids, but times have changed and a shortcoming of the past has become a major Achilles heal today. Gary’s lack of recruiting has cost this program big time in the last few years. His reluctance to put the time into recruiting is a major reason for our struggles.

You can blame Jennings, Maze, Evans, Mosley, and Gilchrist for their own personal shortcomings, but it’s the fault of the program for being in the position of having to count on kids who have legal issues or grades concerns. This is Maryland. This is one of the best programs in one of the best areas of the country. This is a hotbed of basketball talent and when you can’t keep your own stars in state, you are forced to take chances on questionable kids or try and turn a mid-major caliber kid into a superstar. Gary has done that in the past, but you shouldn’t need to. There is no excuse for the amount of local talent that has gone elsewhere. Nobody wants a program with a ton of one-and-done kids, but you need to keep the talent in state. And Gary needed to ‘play the game’.

The biggest issue is that there is no end in sight to these struggles. Gary is 63. He is not going to change. He will not go out there and recruit a junior high kid, and that’s what it takes these days. You can’t expect to come in the last minute and grab a local kid just because this is Maryland. You need to put in years building a relationship with a player. If Gary refuses to do this, it’s time to find someone who will. That’s just the way it is in today’s game. It would be nice if AAU issues or a kid’s ‘handlers’ or ‘advisors’ didn’t have to be brown-nosed (or offered jobs) in order to get the kid to sign a LOI, but that’s not the way it is. If the rumors about Gilchrist are true, this kid is just listening to his ‘handler’ and not making any decisions on his own.

I never wanted to think Gary was to blame, but after one conversation with a source connected with the athletic program, I was convinced. While I cannot share the details of the stories I was told, I can tell you that it paints a very VERY bad picture of our basketball program and led me to believe that there is no coming back from this in the long run. The end is near and the question will be whether it will hit rock bottom before it’s over.

The good news is that nothing will ever be as bad as the late 80’s with the Len Bias tragedy and the NCAA sanctions. If the Terp basketball program can rise from those ashes to be National Champions, then they can easily rebound from this down swing.

Unfortunately, it will likely take a change at the top to do that.

If Not Gary, Then Who?

I’ve been the biggest Gary apologist and definitely believe he should be given two more years to get us back to respectability, but there is a lot of blame to be passed around and a lot of it has to be on Gary.

Now, after reading what a lot of you are saying about Gary ‘losing it’ or Gary being ‘done’, I just have one question to put out there:

Who would you like to replace him with?

None of our current assistants are ready to take over a top level team. None of our former assistants have been lighting it up in their current jobs. You can’t go out and steal a great coach like you can in college football, so who would replace him?

In my opinion, there is nobody out there that is available that could do a better job than Gary right now. There is no young coach with local ties (which I think is important) to woo away from a mid-major, and I doubt we will be throwing ridiculous money out there either. I think Gary is the guy who brought us back from irrelevance to a national title and I think he can bring us back from NIT-land to a dangerous team in the NCAA’s.

Terrence Jennings Commits to Terps

Is there anything more beautiful than seeing a 6’10” 225lb athletic shot-blocker commit to your alma-mater? 2008 will see the dawning of the Terrence Jennings era at Maryland. Currently, he is the 17th-rated prospect in the nation. Lord have mercy. I guess old G-Will hit the recruiting trail this summer. You gotta love that. It is safe to say that the Terps have reloaded in the front court. Imagining a backcourt of Hayes and Greivous with Burney and Jennings in the frontcourt has me envisioning a 2010 trip to the final four.

I hope everyone is having a great summer. I’ll be back shortly with a football preview.

The Terps of Dangerfield

Maryland’s 20 point win yesterday felt more like surgery than a game. NC State could not compete. Everything seemed like a methodical march to inevitability. Jones and Strawberry were unstoppable. Forcing their will on to their opponents. Yet, there were the freshman. Cool and focused decision makers. Dishing out dimes as needed and not turning the ball over once in the second half. The big men have come along too. Like a caterpillar to a butterfly, the Terps have completed the transfomation from also-ran to full-fledged juggernaut.

Maryland fulfilled reader Kaze’s prophecy on Saturday. They won out. Yesterday’s win completed what is arguably the most improbable run in school history. Sure, there are Terp teams from days gone by that have had longer winning streaks (most recently the 2002 squad), but there have been precious few that have pulled off the metamorphosis of our 2007 version.

Gary has accomplished what every coach dreams about. He molded freshman and seniors to form a team that was greater than the sum of its parts. The best part of this is that for the Terp faithful, we got to watch and be a part of what might be the most exciting and satisifying event in all of sports: an unexpected season. These last three weeks have been as memorable as they have been unprecedented. For that, we owe everyone associated with this team our gratitude.

Much will be made over the coming days about post-season awards. Dave Leitao (or is it Dan? Actually, who cares?) looks to be the front runner for Coach of the Year. Sure, UVA swept the Terps this season and they finished a game ahead in the standings. That is likely to put Leitao over the top. No matter. We know better. All things being equal, if given the chance, Gary will out-coach Leitao when it matters most.

Actually, it will be fitting if Gary doesn’t get the award. No Terp player will find their way on to the ACC first team, nor will Vasquez win Freshman of the Year. Deep down, I think that is how Gary wants it. I think there is no better motivator for this team than to be ignored. Why not have that start at the top with Gary? Respect? Who needs it?

Quietly, the Terps are the most feared team in the conference and a dark horse Final Four candidate. The longer we go unnoticed, the better.

As I watch the UNC – Duke game, I’m torn. Sure, I’d love the Terps to get the bye in the ACC Tourney, but that means we would likely play Carolina in the Quarterfinals. However I had Zen-like realization a I watched the game. Instead of worrying about who the Terps are playing; other teams are worried about playing us. You think Carolina wants any part of the Terps right now? Let the chips fall where they may. Our boys will be ready.

In terms of respect, it may come this week. I would expect the Terps to find themselves in the Top 15. Anything less, and the Rodney Dangerfield show will continue its uninterrupted run in College Park.

Hail Gary! Hail the Seniors

What a game! Can you believe they pulled that one out? The most crucial sequence of the game came when Mike Jones turned the ball over, and the Tarheels were heading for an uncontested layup. The layup was missed, and Jones promptly drained a three cutting the lead to seven. That was a five point swing and it was all Terps the rest of the way.

A collective mea culpa is in order. Gary Williams, I doubted you. We all doubted you. Losing has a way of doing that to a fan base. Gary’s Terps completed an improbable ressurrection and Gary above all and should be recognized. He is the best coach in the history of the University and will be in Springfield one day. In no small part due to what he has acheived this year.

These kids have been left for dead twice. For the seniors, it was missing the tournament for two straight years. And then most recently, this January. The Terps were 2-5 in conference play. Now they are 8-6!! Who can believe that?

The first four games of this run were sparked by the play of the underclassmen. James Gist, Grevis Vasquez, and Eric Hayes were turning heads. The Sun, The Post, even Jay Bilas were writing about them.

Tonight it was the seniors. DJ played the game of his career. 27 points on 12-18 shooting. Jones played the way he should have been playing for the last 4 years (He got a ton of open looks coming off screens). Ibekwe committed his required three stupid fouls, but played great defense against Hansborough down the stretch and rebounded the ball well.

Vasquez and Hayes played poorly, but the seniors picked them up. It was a team effort. This team never gives up. Gary has taken two freshman and a JC transfer and molded them with a star-crossed upper class. Few coaches can acheive that kind of balance and commitment to unselfish play.

I think Gary Williams warrants consideration for ACC Coach of the Year. If the Terps pull this off and win out, he gets the nod.

Something special is happening in College Park. Many Terp fans will be reminded of the teams’ Final Four run in 2001. Left for dead after the Duke (gone in 53 seconds) and Florida State losses; the Terps miraculously rebounded and made it to the grand stage.

Can this team replicate that? That may not be in the cards for this team, but who cares? These players have given their fans a gift. The gift of an unexpected run to glory. For that, I am grateful.

Duke is on Wednesday. Who can wait?

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