Gary Williams has made himself scarce around the Maryland Terrapins men’s basketball program, which he ran for the prior 22 seasons. He’s been busy completing various tasks for the athletic department (for which he’s paid a tidy $400,000), working as an analyst for the Big Ten network and, just recently, making weekly local radio appearances on ESPN 980.
But there was no way Williams could avoid making his presence felt Wednesday at Comcast Center. It’s considered “The House That Gary Built,” but on this night the court officially was his.
“It was great,” he said, several minutes after entering to wild applause from a standing-room-only crowd, on hand to witness the public unveiling of “Gary Williams Court” before the Terps played Duke. “It’s just something I hope everybody feels a part of that’s ever been connected with basketball at the University of Maryland. I think that’s important.”
Duke pulled away in the final seven minutes for a 74-61 victory, but that didn’t spoil the evening. Neither did word a day earlier that former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell wasn’t a fan of the court’s new name. Driesell reportedly sent an e-mail of protest to Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan, stating that he didn’t want his own name or any other coach’s name emblazoned on the hardwood.
“It’s not fair to my players that they would put Gary Williams‘ name on the court,” Driesell told the Baltimore Sun. “It’s a disservice to players such as Tom McMillen, John Lucas, Len Elmore, Brad Davis, Greg Manning, Adrian Branch and Steve Sheppard.”
Driesell, 80, comes off as being bitter and jealous, whether he harbors those feelings or thinks he’s just sticking up for his guys. But honoring Williams isn’t dishonoring his predecessors. Driesell does deserves credit for increasing the national relevance of Maryland basketball, and he should’ve been recognized by now, in some way.
But the program’s two Final Four trips and the 2002 national championship are Williams‘ handiwork, without which there might not be a Comcast Center at all.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose team plays its home games on “Coach K Court,” said Driesell and any other dissenters are missing the point. “The court is for everybody,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s not just the guys who played for Gary. I mean Lefty started something here on a national level that was unbelievable. Some of the greatest players to ever play college basketball played here at Maryland for Lefty.”
That’s in the past and so is Williams‘ tenure, though the latter was celebrated once more Wednesday night with a video montage before the game. Then he entered the arena and gave his trademark fist pump as he walked to halfcourt to shake hands with athletic director Kevin Anderson, ACC Commissioner John Swofford and school President Wallace Loh.
“I really … that’s not my concern,” he said. “My concern is this university and this basketball program and Mark Turgeon being able to carry out what he’s here to do. That’s my work now and that’s my goal to make that happen.”
He said his first order of business has been to stay away, not talking to Turgeon much since he arrived. Williams said he hasn’t come to any games and hasn’t watched that many either. He suspects that will change some next year and more as time goes by, but he wanted to make a clean break in Turgeon’s first season.
“This isn’t my program anymore,” he said. “You have to step away. I’ve been in situations where the coach hung around after he left and that’s not any good at all. I’ve went out of my way not to be around.”
There’s no getting around him now, not with his signature etched on the Terps' home court in two places. It’s one thing to have the banners hanging overhead, where you must crane your neck if you want to see them. It’s another thing when the cursive writing appears under players’ feet on every trip up and down the floor.