Maryland Coach Gary Williams Rejects "One-and-Dones": Program Suffering?

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Maryland Coach Gary Williams Rejects
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It's a new day in college basketball, and everyone knows it. The talented few are on campus for one year, and they quickly sprint for the NBA riches. Who can blame them? I don't. Get that paper, boo. 

But one person who refuses to play the "one-and-done" game is Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams. He was quoted recently in the Washington Post as saying, "I don't cheat." That was in reference to the assumption that all one-and-done players somehow don't follow the rules. 

Gary may be right. Or he may be wrong. Depends on who you ask. But one thing is for sure: Coach Williams isn't recruiting high school players who enroll in college with the full knowledge they'll head to the National Basketball Association after one year. As a result, Maryland Basketball is sinking. And sinking fast.

All of the top players coming out of high school already have an entourage. And no, I'm not talking about the hit HBO show. I'm talking about real life stuff here. A sought-after high school baller has an AAU coach, a high school coach and various inside influences to help him make his decisions. 

The biggest player in the game is the AAU coach. He shapes and molds the player in the offseason. He takes them to out-of-town basketball tournaments. He gives them a taste of the good life. Kind of a sign of things to come, if you will. In other words, he's a trusted adviser. Sometimes the AAU coach is closer to the player than the player's parents.  Sounds ridiculous, but it's true.

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At some point when that star high school baller is ready to pick a college where he can showcase his talents, guess who's helping him make the decision. His parents? Nope. His friends? Nope. His high school coach? Nope. It's the AAU coach. And that's where Gary Williams and a few other coaches get a little irritated. 

You see, if that AAU coach steers his player to your basketball program, he may want a little somethin' somethin' in return. Something like a coaching position on your college staff. Or perhaps an advisory position within your program. He needs something because he just delivered a prized recruit to the front door of your arena and may have just guaranteed your team a shot at the national championship.

Look, I know I'm walking on sensitive ground here. A lot you who read this column don't want to hear it. But we all know it's true, even though the NCAA looks the other way or has determined there is nothing improper about the AAU coach of a top recruit somehow benefiting from this situation. 

But whatever the case, Gary Williams ain't havin' it. He ain't playin' the game and it's killing him. I'll give him his props because he's holding his ground. For now.

The Terps have just concluded another disappointing basketball season. They were eliminated by Duke in the second round of the ACC Tournament. They were slapped around all year by better teams, in and out of the conference. They were probably hoping for an invitation to the NIT. You know, that other tournament where the other teams play while March Madness is captivating the nation.

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Coach Williams considered a one-and-done last year. He flirted with the possibility of signing the so-called "Chosen One" off the playgrounds of New York City. 

Lance Stephenson was a high school basketball legend in the Big Apple. He holds the all-time scoring record for high schoolers in New York. Williams had visions of Stephenson wearing the red and black at Maryland. But with Stephenson's checkered background and whispers about him bolting for the NBA after one year of college, Williams passed. 

Stephenson later signed with the University of Cincinnati, and you guessed it. He declared for the pros after one year and was selected by the NBA's Indianapolis Pacers.

It's a helluva position to be in if you're a college basketball coach. Do I recruit a kid who I know will jump to the NBA after one year? Or do I take a pass and recruit a less talented player who's more likely to stay on campus for three to four years?  Tough call. 

The one-and-done may take you all the way to the Final Four and perhaps the championship game because he's that good. That's why he's a "one and done." That other player probably won't get you there and you might end up watching March Madness at home like this writer.

I don't envy Coach Williams, because like other coaches of major basketball programs, he has to win. And he has to win now. There is tremendous pressure on these coaches to win a national championship, especially if you're at a big school like Maryland. 

Despite winning the national title in 2002 with Juan Dixon, Lonnie Baxter and Steve Blake, Williams has been and is being scrutinized. The previous athletic director never quite gave him a full vote of confidence before she left for another job. The new AD at Maryland, Kevin Anderson, has been sort of quiet. But one should note the long-time football coach at Maryland, Ralph Friedgen, was replaced under Anderson. So, I'm just saying.

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March Madness is a gold mine for colleges and universities. If your team is good enough to qualify for the tournament and make a run for the championship, your institution stands to earn millions of dollars in revenue. Your players are on national television, your institution is getting major league publicity and the other benefits are too enormous to mention here. 

If you're the coach one of these teams, such as Connecticut, Duke, Ohio State, Kansas, North Carolina or Louisville, the athletic director loves you. You are indeed the man. In essence, the big man on campus. It also means job security, a top-level salary and the ability to attract the best high school players in the country.

The Terps and Coach Williams got left at the bus stop this year. The NCAA didn't extend an at-large bid, and the NIT basically screwed Maryland. At 19-14 and with two good players in Terrell Stoglin and Jordan Williams, anyone could've seen that this team is NIT worthy. 

But as a big time coach in the world of college basketball, you'll know not to put yourself in this position if you want to win and keep the naysayers at bay. That means recruiting one-and-dones.

It's a new reality out there in college basketball. You've got to play the game if you're the coach. If don't play the game of one-and-dones, you find yourself getting bypassed by the two major end of season college basketball tournaments. I'll move over coach, there's plenty of room on the couch in my living room. I can offer you a cold beer, but I'm fresh out of job security.

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