Maryland will open its 47th and final basketball season at Cole Field House today, honoring its 2000-01 Final Four team by raising a commemorative banner to the rafters.
And when Maryland takes the floor against American University, there will be a little bit of history there, too. American coach Jeff Jones faced Maryland coach Gary Williams 13 times, including six at Cole, as an ACC adversary at Virginia from 1990 until 1996. Meanwhile, Williams will be facing the school that gave him his first Division I head coaching job in 1978.
Williams and the Terps are coming off their most successful season in program history, while Jones is trying to build the Eagles, 7-20 in his first season, back to the level they reached under Williams (two straight 20-win seasons) in the early 1980s.
“I have a lot of feelings about that place,” Williams said. “It’s always a good game for me.”
Jones, who speaks with Williams often in the offseason, has some memories of Cole, too.
As a Virginia freshman in 1978-79, he remembers the first game he played at Maryland, when he guarded dangerous Terps forward Ernest Graham. “I blocked his first shot, and he never really got on track,” Jones said.
Then there was Feb. 27, 1982, when Adrian Branch hit a shot over Jones in the final seconds to give unranked Maryland an upset of the No.1 Cavaliers, 47-46 in overtime.
“I told [my team] it was a great shooting gym,” Jones said. “It’s a great college basketball atmosphere.”
While Jones was ending his playing career, Williams was starting his coaching career at American. After hovering near the .500 mark in his first two seasons, the Eagles won 24 and 21 games in his final two, making the NIT both years and boosting Williams to the head position at Boston College in 1982. Williams succeeded at American despite not having an on-campus basketball facility. The Eagles played at Fort Myer in Arlington, with their locker room doubling as a weight-lifting facility for troops stationed there.
“For home games, we’d pack vans up, water coolers, everything,” Williams said. “The thing with coaching in a situation like that is, you find ways to get around [the inadequacies]. That’s important in coaching. If your first job’s a great job, when you get some adversity, maybe you don’t handle it as well.”
Jones had a great first coaching job in Charlottesville. One moment he won’t soon forget was Feb. 1, 1995, when, following the No.15 Cavaliers’ 71-62 defeat by the No.5 Terps, Jones punched a blackboard attached to a wall in the visitors’ locker room at Cole and broke his hand. He had it in a cast for weeks, but Virginia went on a tear and reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
Jones’ familiarity with the building could pay off today. Cole is well-known for having some dead spots on the floor; while the Terps know where they are, opponents rarely do. Jones was re-familiarizing himself yesterday and sharing the knowledge with his players.
“Pete McLaughlin [a two-year letter winner under Jones at Virginia and current American assistant] was showing [the Eagles] a few of them out there, [near] half court. You wonder why they haven’t redone the floor that’s why,” Jones said with a laugh.
Note Williams said junior forward Tahj Holden will start at power forward today. Williams had considered starting sophomore Chris Wilcox at the position but liked the way the Terps played against Temple last Friday and in Tuesday’s exhibition with Holden in the starting lineup.
“We ran the offense well right away [with Holden],” Williams said. “That doesn’t say one is better than the other.”