- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

On the Comcast Center TV screens, a new introduction for Maryland’s basketball team is being tested. There are flames, speeded-up videos of players dunking, wild-eyed fans and, above all, cacophonous noise. You can’t hear yourself think, which is sort of the idea. This is, after all, ACC BASKETBALL! Who needs to think? Just feel.

In his office a short distance away, the man responsible for maintaining such hysteria around College Park sits and talks quietly. At 58, Gary Williams is approaching his 15th season as headmaster of hoops at his alma mater. It will be a challenging season, and perhaps one of his most rewarding, because his Terrapins are greener than dollar bills with five freshmen, nine underclassmen and one senior on the squad. But this is the kind of season and challenge that Williams loves.

In 25 seasons as a college coach at American University, Boston College, Ohio State and Maryland, Williams has won 502 games. At Terptown, his 14-season record is 295-153 for a glittering .658 winning percentage. Two seasons ago, his best Maryland team went 32-4 and won the school’s first NCAA title. Last season, with most of the key players gone, the Terps went to the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in 10 years.

But for Williams, you see, the key word is next. The next planning session. The next practice. The next game. He figures there will be plenty of time for looking back when he is finished coaching. But now — why he’s just getting started.

“The only time I think about being older is when my knee starts to hurt when I crouch [in his characteristic courtside pose],” Williams says with a rueful chuckle. “As long as I’m healthy and I can get out on the floor and coach the way I want to, I’ll keep going. Basketball has been my whole life, and I want to give back to the game — not cheat the game. So for the foreseeable future …”

The way Gary Williams wants to coach is with great passion. Watch him react to what he considers a bad call by the referees. During practice, he loves laughing and joking with his veteran players. Of course, there aren’t many around this fall as the Terps await tonight’s first exhibition game against a team called the EA Sports All-Stars. This fall Williams is being very much a teacher and hoping the lessons sink in before the Terps open play for real Nov.22 against American University.

“I’m pleased with our new players,” Williams says. “With new players, you always wonder if they’ll do the work necessary to get better. These guys seem to be working hard, showing up for practice every day with the right attitude. The games are the easy part — the tough part is getting ready for practice. We’re going longer and harder than they did in high school, and it’s taking more out of them.”

Most of the new Terps are the bluest kind of blue-chippers. Forward Hassan Fofana from Guinea weighs 300 pounds, takes a size 19 shoe and could be a bona fide banger up front. Will Bowers, Mike Jones, Ekene Ibekwe and D.J. Strawberry (Darryl’s son) could be major contributors by February. Or they could be flops. Nobody knows, including Williams.

“They’re all the same until we play some games,” he says. “Some guys look great in practice, and some are game players, and we have to find out which. I’ve told them to play as hard and as well as they can in the [two] exhibition games because we’ve got a lot of decisions to make. But I love to see players develop. They entrust you as their coach to make them better, and it’s my job to spend as much time as possible helping them.”

Literally.

“A lot of our practices have gone three hours,” says junior forward Mike Grinnon, who played sparingly last season but figures to get much more time now. “Coach Williams has been very patient with the new guys when they make mistakes.”

And with older players?

“You learn to take the abuse,” says Grinnon, grinning.

This collection of Terps, old and new, will be the last to play the ACC’s traditional double round-robin schedule. When Boston College and football powers Miami and Virginia Tech join up, Maryland will play “primary partners” Virginia and Duke twice each season but some other heated ACC rivals only once. The ACC’s expansion is great for football, grim for basketball traditionalists.

“I’d like to see it stay the same,” Williams says. “For 50 years, the ACC has been the nation’s best basketball conference, so we didn’t need any help. I just hope some team doesn’t sneak in and win the regular-season title because of its schedule [not playing some strong rivals more than once]. But I’m open-minded enough to give [the new arrangement a look] and hope it all balances out. That’s the way it is in college athletics nowadays.”

Meaning: Show me the money.

No matter how the ACC alters its product, Gary Williams and Maryland figure to be up there or thereabouts. He puts it this way, quietly but much more effectively than any decibel-pumping scoreboard video could: “We expect to be good every year.”


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