After the conclusion of this weekend’s NCAA men’s tournament games, there will be four teams left standing.
To earn a championship trophy takes sound coaching, a high level of productivity from a core group of talented athletes, and of course a great deal of luck.
Maryland Terrapins head honcho Gary Williams has certainly experienced the highs and the lows of life as a college basketball coach.
The ultimate achievement in his illustrious, 20-year career occurred back in 2002. Maryland went on to knock off the underdog Indiana Hoosiers 64-52 on April Fool’s Day of that year. The last laugh was on the losing team, as the Terrapins completed their most glorious season in Garyland’s history.
Since the day Williams rescued Maryland from its haunting, NCAA recruiting nightmare past, the Terrapins have heeded his tutelage.
The man is a constant stream of anxiousness, and can be seem on the sidelines at Comcast Center, spewing verbal assaults on anybody within earshot. His players are used to it by now.
In fact, most of them forgive him instantly for any four-letter words that get hurled in their direction.
“That is just Coach being Coach,” said senior guard Juan Dixon, after the Terrapins’ celebrated victory seven years ago.
Gary Williams is as intense as it gets. His abrasive style might rub some basketball snobs the wrong way, but one cannot argue with his results.
His career at Maryland began in 1989. He guided the Terrapins to a respectable 18-13 record and an NIT berth.
More importantly for the Terps fans, he turned the focus from the negative (the death of Len Bias in 1986, his predecessor’s misdeeds) back to the hardwood.
Bob Wade left a terrible taste in Terps’ fan’s mouths when he left in disgrace. Williams picked up the pieces, but still had to rebuild the basketball program one brick at a time.
Maryland was hit with a two-year postseason ban in 1990. They were removed from the national television circuit for one year, and scholarships were cut.
Williams had the difficult task of making Maryland competitive amidst the penalties, with which he was not a party to. One of his best players during his opening tenure was also named Williams.
Walt Williams played for the Terrapins from 1988-1992. Nicknamed “The Wizard,” the sharpshooting guard/forward decided to stay with the university and play for Gary, much to the delight of the success-starved, college basketball community.
Walt Williams finished on the All-American second team in his senior year, averaging a school-record 26.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 2.1 assists.
He scored 20 or more points in 19 straight games and broke Len Bias’ single-season point total record at Maryland by chalking up 776.
Gary Williams praises Walt to this day for giving him his leadership and support, even though he couldn’t bring the big ring to Maryland, until 10 years after the younger Williams had graduated.
“Walt deserves more of the credit than I do for keeping things from completely imploding here,” said a resolute Williams. “He took charge of that '92 team for me, and we started the comeback without anyone’s true belief we could do it. I will always respect him for letting me prove my worth.”
From 1993-2005, Maryland has remained a consistent, top-25 Associated Press performer. Six notable Maryland alums have gone onto to have continuous NBA careers.
Former ACC player of the year Joe Smith is still hanging around pro basketball, even though college is where he made his mark.
Guards Juan Dixon and Steve Blake are carving out pro careers with the Washington Wizards and Portland Trailblazers. As seniors these two scrappy players combined to give Maryland an elusive back court attack that never heard of the word stop. When the ball was in play, they were on the move.
With forwards Lonny Baxter, Bryon Mouton and center Chris Wilcox rounding out Maryland’s fab five, the Terrapins were the No. 1 team in the nation, from the preseason to the final game of the season.
Gary Williams became the first coach to direct his alma mater to a national title since Norm Sloan accomplished the feat with North Carolina State in 1974. After the Terrapins achieved elite status by hoisting college basketball’s highest prize, they hit a run of mediocre play.
After the 2004-2005 season, Maryland failed to make the NCAA tournament three out of the next five years. Coach Williams, in all his rough language, cannot be accused of making excuses for his team’s poor play. He will openly discuss why he is sometimes misrepresented in the fine print.
“I get emotional on the court,” said Williams. “My players know it is nothing personal with them. We are in this fight together. If a player disagrees with the decisions I make, let him come and talk to me about it. When you win, you have no problems. So I try and win as many games as possible, so you guys will give me some time off.”
Imagine that! Scary Gary has a sense of humor.
Maryland made the NCAA tournament this year for the 13th time in Williams’ 20-year career. They lost in the second round game to the No. 2 Memphis Tigers 89-70 to end another tumultuous season for the hot-and-cold crew.
Leading scorer Greivis Vasquez (16.1 PPG) might head to the NBA in the offseason, which would leave Maryland without a proven leader yet again.
Not to worry, Terps’ fans. There’s a bright tomorrow ahead as the players believe that coach Williams' philosophy is right for their program.
“Coach goes over every detail,” said forward Landon Milbourne. “He yells a lot, but I like his intensity. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”