- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2001

Gary Williams is discovering that basketball does not have to be a root canal.
Incredible as it seems, basketball can be a fun and pleasant experience, and when it is fun and pleasant, the players seemingly perform at a higher level.
This is being treated as news. It seems Williams has reinvented the wheel, and the Terps, ready for last rites after losing at home to Florida State, are on a five-game winning streak going into the ACC tournament today.
Williams has turned down the volume, and the Terps have turned up their play and all is well in College Park.
Williams suggests the connection is "overrated," and maybe it is. He knows his team better than anyone else. He knows his team's mental makeup and its dynamics better than anyone else. He studies the game film. He is around his players at all hours, in all kinds of social settings. The public and media see only the snapshots, the games, and base their evaluations on these incomplete offerings.
That is the nature of the game within the game, the madness, as it is called at this time of the year, and it is the madness that fills Cole Field House and leads to an exhausting inspection among the members of the media. Each game is made out to be so much more than it is, and it is left to the coach and players to rise above the lack of perspective.
Isn't that what the Zen master attempts to do as he hands out those densely written books to his players? Isn't he trying to sell them on the notion that there is a world outside their self-absorbed one, and can't that, in a way, be a liberating experience on the court?
Coaches and players are often guilty of wanting something too badly. They want to win. They want to be the toast of their tiny world. It has its perks: money, fame, power.
Williams knows the deal. He has been granted a certain comfort because of his ability to win 20 games a season. The players know the deal as well. They see Steve Francis in Houston. They see where their efforts can lead.
Theirs is a built-in pressure, and the hyperactivity on the sideline is an act of redundancy at best and counterproductive at worst.
Williams probably would not think as clearly if Debbie Yow decided to yell in his ear at various moments in a game. Williams, when the team was bleeding, certainly did not appreciate the tough-love approach of the Cole Field House throng. He wanted the throng's love and support, the strength from those convictions, because with that, he could beat the world, or at least the teams in the ACC.
John Wooden figured out the game's psychology a long time ago. He accuses many of today's coaches of playing to the television cameras and squeezing the joy from the game. His insights are hardly deep, just out of favor with those who believe the sky is falling with each turnover.
Mike Krzyzewski probably finds the balance as well as any coach in college basketball. He works a game. He also sits a lot and permits his players to be all they can be. Not surprisingly, his players perform beyond their fears, ever ready to deliver the game-turning 3-pointer.
The night of Duke's improbable rally against the Terps, Krzyzewski let Jason Williams be, even as the point guard compiled a frightful statistical line in the first half. Williams eventually rewarded Krzyzewski's unyielding embrace, making a number of big plays near the end of regulation and in the overtime. He was allowed to be awful and wound up being great. The dividend did not have to be immediate. It usually isn't.
Krzyzewski has identified his players and he is bound to them, even on their bad nights. It is a matter of percentages. Great players have bad games. A good coach merely tries to negotiate the number down. To do that, the good coach holds his tongue and emotions in check. You want 30 productive games from your all-ACC point guard? You better be careful on those five or six nights when he is something less. You better know when to back off.
That is what Williams has done out of desperation with the Terps. Maybe it is "overrated," as he says.
Maybe you can treat each game as if it were Armageddon and not exhaust your players in the process. Maybe you can start frothing at the mouth in October and expect your team to be fresh in March.
Somebody has to win the darn thing, and luck is no small element in the single-elimination tournament.
Coincidentally or not, Williams' teams have been remarkably consistent in March. They usually give out.

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