- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Gary Williams walked to a table with three reporters and several empty seats yesterday at the ACC preseason basketball media event. The coach, just two seasons removed from a national championship, looked around and said “Where is everybody?”

Across the room, North Carolina coach and anointed savior Roy Williams spoke to a standing-room only throng of scribes. Someone suggested Gary is now the ACC’s other Coach Williams.

“I’m not the other Coach Williams. Check my record. I won a national championship,” the Maryland coach said only slightly in jest.

But yesterday Gary was the other Williams and everybody else in the conference — even always-popular Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski — has been pushed aside as the Roy Williams’ show takes center stage.

The native son has come back to resurrect the once-mighty Tar Heels. Williams, who reached four Final Fours but did not win a title in 15 seasons at Kansas, returned to his alma mater with plans of restoring its prominence. Williams replaced exiled Matt Doherty and apparently has brought Carolina blue skies to Chapel Hill.

“We are one of the most talented teams in the country,” said forward Jawad Williams, who feels North Carolina can win the ACC and challenge for the national championship. “The talent is there.”

Roy Williams was brought back to clean up the mess that was Doherty’s final year. Last season ended with a player mutiny that led to the administration forcing out Doherty. The new coach — who is tops among active college coaches with an .805 winning percentage (418-101) — is trying to downplay the lofty expectations of a program that failed to reach the NCAA tournament the last two seasons.

“I don’t think it’s realistic,” said Williams, who took the Jayhawks to the past two Final Fours, including a loss to Syracuse in last season’s title game. “We have no back-up point guard. We have no depth at the big spots.”

The Tar Heels are a consensus top-10 team in preseason publications. They boast sophomore point guard Raymond Felton, who was voted the conference’s preseason Player of the Year yesterday, and 6-foot-8 inside force Sean May is back after missing most of last season with a broken foot.

North Carolina was picked to finish second in the league. Carolina country may be smitten with Roy’s boys, but the Blue Devils received 53 of 55 first-place votes among media members to repeat as conference champions.

“When something new comes along, everybody starts to talk about that for a while,” said Duke guard Daniel Ewing, whose team has not advanced past the Sweet 16 since it won the national title in 2001. “Duke is still here. We still have a good team and still have a great coach.”

Felton narrowly edged out N.C. State’s Julius Hodge for Player of the Year. Duke’s J.J. Redick, Wake Forest’s Vytas Danelius and Florida State’s Tim Pickett were named to preseason all-conference team along with Felton and Hodge.

The Wolfpack were predicted to finish fourth behind Wake Forest, which returns four starters after losing ACC Player of the Year Josh Howard. The “other” Coach Williams and his Terrapins were picked fifth after the departure of four senior starters from last season’s Sweet 16 squad.

“People are picking us fourth, fifth, sixth in the league — that’s OK,” said Gary Williams, who has led Maryland to 10 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and seven 20-win seasons in a row. “Now, we are the young team and we have to overcome [a lack of experience]. With an older team, sometimes the biggest challenge is to motivate. These guys don’t need motivation. They need teaching.”

Power forward Jamar Smith is the only senior on the Terps and sophomore Nik Caner-Medley is the only returning starter. Maryland will have four sophomores and five freshmen vying for playing time. John Gilchrist, a proven all-around player, will take over at point guard for four-year starter Steve Blake.

Shooting guard Mike Jones, a top-20 recruit, heads a promising class including Ekene Ibekwe, a 6-9 Californian. The Terps don’t mind being an afterthought in the league, although the fifth-place selection is their lowest in the preseason poll since being tabbed eighth in 1993.

“By the end of the season, everybody will be talking about Maryland,” said Smith, who hopes to become a featured inside player after averaging 5.9 points and 3.9 rebounds last season. “We can be counted out now. I just know we have a team full of talent and the sky’s the limit.”

Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Clemson were picked sixth through ninth. The Cavaliers, who have reached the NCAA tournament only once in coach Pete Gillen’s five seasons, look to return to the NCAAs after a two-year hiatus.

“It is important that we show progress,” said Gillen, whose team seemed NCAA-bound before a seven-game losing streak last season and the suspension of now-departed point guard Keith Jenifer. “It is more pressure. We have an eight-year contract, eight years counting this year. … But hey, you are always one step away from the street.”

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