Gary Williams: ‘This is my team’

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There is little question of Williams’ single-mindedness. Not when he’s perspiring through his shirt during a game, not when he’s sparring with the media, not when he’s poring over a little extra film and excavating another play, another defense, another weakness to exploit.

And not when he talks about what others refer to as Garyland, a catch-all euphemism others use for the program (and ultimately, by extension, himself) Williams defends with ferocity. The subtopic — recruiting, coaching turnover, the use of certain players — doesn’t matter.

“It’s personal,” Williams says. “I judge it differently obviously because I’m the closest one to the program. So I know what we could have done better at, and I know what we’ve done really good at and maybe overachieved at. I’d rather just keep it at that without getting into specifics.”

But no matter how mercurial Williams’ whims, his support for his players remains steadfast in nearly every scenario. And that was at the core of his drive through the mountains.

Maryland’s season at that point became a building exercise, an attempt to create some reason for hope. It meant infusing some belief in a team riddled with doubt and maintaining a relatively steady hand that belied his volatile reputation.

“That means a lot,” guard Cliff Tucker says. “After losing back-to-back to American and Ohio, a lot of coaches would probably have no faith in us, but coach stayed with us. He told us he would stick with us. He told us we would be really good.”

For a while, the Terps were. Not long ago they were 17-9 and seemingly well on their way to an NCAA tournament berth. But in a startling twist to a regular season even Williams admits was “uneven,” Maryland dropped four of five.

It’s a slide capable of bringing out the worst in anyone but not Williams. Not when there are still games to be won, players to improve and even a chance to fire a volley at those who doubt the Terps can climb out of their latest chasm.

“One thing coach always says at practice is he’s never going to quit. He’s never going to let us go,” senior forward Bambale Osby says. “He’s going to fight as long as he’s the coach here, and we’re going to play like the teams that played here in the past. … He gets mad. He gets frustrated. He gets upset even though loves it. It’s his life. At the end of the day, he knows what he wants.”

Since his first day back in College Park in 1989, he knew. Williams understood there was much work to be done that quickly cascaded into even more because of NCAA sanctions brought on because of his predecessor, but the underlying impulse was to build a basketball colossus — with all of the trappings that come with it, for good and for bad.

No long drive ever was needed to create clarity in that regard.

In other words, he wanted what is now his.

“This is my team,” Williams says. “I went to school here. I played here. I came here in ‘89 when it wasn’t a good situation. We had to work four or five years, and they were four or five years of my prime coaching time. I want people to remember that. That’s just me.”

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