- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams, like many of his peers, stalks off toward the locker room as soon as the buzzer sounds to signal the end of the first half.

These days, he has someone quite familiar keeping pace with him.

Maryland’s radio team added a sideline reporter for home games this season, the first time that common element for football games was added to the basketball broadcasts. And the man asking Williams questions is former Terrapins star Walt Williams, one of the seminal figures in the program’s history.

“I love the school, and I wanted to be involved there,” said Williams, who will help call Tuesday’s game between Maryland (6-3) and Winston-Salem State (2-6) from Comcast Center. “I was thinking about doing something as far as radio, something with basketball. I thought it would be a great place to start.”

It wouldn’t be the first time. Williams emerged as a star in his final two seasons at Maryland and averaged a school-record 26.8 points as a senior in 1991-92. That success led him to a place in the 1992 NBA Draft lottery and an 11-year pro career.

He dabbled in broadcasting, working on the Washington Wizards postgame show for Comcast SportsNet for a couple seasons. But the possibility didn’t emerge at Maryland until an offseason conversation with Gary Williams led to an addition to the longtime team of play-by-play man Johnny Holliday and analyst Chris Knoche.

Walt Williams perches himself behind the Terps’ bench during games and listens in on huddles. He also roves through the stands and already has interviewed former Maryland stars Byron Mouton and Johnny Rhodes and Wizards forward Andray Blatche in the Terps’ first four home games.

“He’s a good resource for Johnny and Chris because he played for me,” Gary Williams said. “He knows a lot of the things we do. Walt was an NBA player, and he knows the game as well as anyone. He’s a great addition to the team. This is something new. It’s always good not to stay the same. I think it was time.”

Of course, the gig leaves Walt Williams in what for most people would be an unenviable spot - trying to talk with his old coach when he is entirely caught up in the game.

It isn’t a new situation for Gary Williams, who does halftime interviews with outlets televising the game. But it has also created the entertaining visual of the 6-foot-8 former player intercepting the coach on the way off the floor and slipping in a question or two.

“It’s been great,” Walt Williams said. “I hope in some respects I can calm him down before he walks into the locker room. He has to be in control and be thinking. He sort of calms himself down and answers very knowledgeably and then walks off. Hopefully that carries over. Most often he’s shooting for perfection and he’s going to be upset going into halftime.”

If anyone is ideal for the role, it’s probably Walt Williams. Faced with the opportunity to bolt College Park after the Terps were slapped with probation and bans from both television and the postseason after his sophomore season, Williams could have transferred and played immediately.

Williams, who grew up in Temple Hills, remained with the Terps in large part to play near his family. But he also remembers how Gary Williams came to his home and talked about how he would help his basketball career.

Walt Williams, of course, had a significant impact on Gary Williams’ career, too. Nicknamed “The Wizard,” Walt Williams uncorked seven straight 30-point games in ACC play as a senior and almost single-handedly kept the program relevant during dark times. That in turn led to consecutive recruiting classes that turned around the program and led to an 11-year NCAA tournament streak.

“I always felt I probably would not be here if Walt hadn’t decided to stay,” Gary Williams said.

Now he’s back, albeit in a starkly different position. Walt Williams is only working home games this season as his role is given a trial run. But he is savoring the opportunity to have a place in the program.

“The biggest surprise is how much I enjoy it,” he said. “I didn’t expect to enjoy it that much. I don’t know. It was just something to pass the time. I just didn’t expect to enjoy it to this degree.”

• Patrick Stevens can be reached at pstevens@washingtontimes.com.

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