- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

Gary Williams led Maryland to its best regular-season record and its first outright ACC title in 22 seasons. Yesterday, he was recognized as the ACC Coach of the Year for the first time in his 13 seasons in College Park.

"I take pride in our team," said Williams, whose Terps are a No.1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the first time. "The coach of the year award is really nice. But it's a shared award. It's not one person; it's the coaches and players."

Williams garnered 44 of 84 votes from the Atlantic Coast Sports Writers Association, outdistancing N.C. State's Herb Sendek (35 votes). Williams would have won in a more decisive manner were it not for strong support for Sendek among the North Carolina media. The Wolfpack were picked seventh in the ACC in the preseason but finished tied for third with Wake Forest with a 9-7 conference mark.

The Terps had a 25-3 (now 26-4) record in the regular season and set a program record for conference wins with 15, winning their final 12 ACC games to end Duke's five-year reign as regular-season champions. The Terps are the East Region's No.1 seed and will face the winner of tonight's NCAA play-in game for the 16th-seed between Alcorn State and Siena.

Williams, 57, has led the Terps to nine straight NCAA tournaments and to the Sweet 16 in five of the past eight seasons. Maryland reached its first Final Four last year, and has won at least 25 games the past four seasons.

"He deserves it," Terps center Lonny Baxter said. "We had a big change, the first time winning the ACC regular season. We've had a great year all year. It's thanks to his coaching. He's been here a long time. He coached us to a great season."

Lefty Driesell was the last Maryland coach to win the award in 1980, when he led the Terps to their most recent outright ACC regular-season title before this season. Driesell also got the honor in '75 to mark the only other time a Maryland coach has received the award in the 49 years of the ACC.

Williams, in his 24th season as a head coach after stops at American, Boston College and Ohio State, said he didn't expect the honor or give it much thought; only that it came as a pleasant surprise that was more of a statement about the program than himself.

"I don't worry about it," he said. "I always felt that winning the regular season is what got it for us. We won the thing. I was the coach that coached the team that won it."

Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt, last season's recipient, was a distant third with three votes. The Yellow Jackets opened 0-7 in the ACC before winning seven of their final nine league games. Williams joins his old fraternity brother at Maryland, Ralph Friedgen, as a coach of the year. Friedgen was ACC football Coach of the Year last fall in his first season as head coach.

The ACC Player of the Year will be announced today. Duke's Jason Williams, the returning national player of the year, is expected to get that honor. Williams and Maryland's Juan Dixon were the only unanimous All-ACC choices when that team was released last week.

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