Thursday, May 05, 2011

On Gary Williams

Before the Florida fandom, there was the Maryland fandom. Maryland basketball, specifically.

In 1989, I was 16 years old and had spent my sports-fan puberty (say, 12 to 16) ricocheting from Len Bias at his best to Len Bias dead to what Maryland fans gloss over as "The Bob Wade Era."

If you're under the age of 33 or so and don't remember, you have to understand that the program was a wreck after Bias died, so they went and hired a high school coach.

Predictably, he was awful. Really, really awful.

Then, in 1989, the program hired Gary Williams, a former player and a coach with a solid record of success at Boston College and Ohio State.

Maryland was totally screwed back then -- NCAA penalties, scholarship reductions, no NCAA Tournament, no games on TV.

Maryland's best player was Walt Williams -- the Wizard, who in high school had led his team over my high school in the state title game. He had the chance to go pro, but he stuck it out with Gary Williams and helped give the program a new foundation.

From there, Williams recruited a solid mix of locals (like Keith Booth -- who got Maryland back into Baltimore recruiting -- and Johnny Rhodes). Then Joe Smith. Then relevancy.

And then the early part of the new century. First the continuous struggles against Duke -- 2001 was epic in its failure.

Then, in 2002, the national title. This was just after I met my wife and began rooting for Florida. Maryland's hoops title was like perfect closure on the rooting interests of my childhood.

I don't claim a Terps fandom like real fans or alums or students -- although I will say that anyone who was 13 and a Terps fan and went through the Len Bias death gets some kind of fan dispensation for at least 20 years.

But I sincerely appreciate what Gary Williams did for the program. Yes, there was Lefty Dreisell, and he was legendary.

Gary Williams took the program from purgatory and turned it into a national champion. What more could any fan base ask for?


I agree with every top hoops analyst who thinks that Maryland is one of the most underrated job openings in college basketball. This is not Mizzou or NC State or Tennessee. The Maryland recruiting base of the District, Maryland and Virginia (the "DMV") is so rich -- and Williams had tended to it so tenuously -- that any coach with a nose for recruiting is going to stockpile talent like Williams rarely had and create a Top 10 program for a decade.

They will still be measured by their ability to win a national title like Gary Williams.

-- D.S.

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