- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2009

The fans, some clad in bright red sweaters as part of a coordinated show of support, streamed toward Maryland coach Gary Williams during his weekly radio show Thursday night. They offered their appreciation for his work the past 20 years.

Some brought basketballs for Williams to sign; others snagged a game program from a nearby table. One even carried a picture of Williams during the celebration of the program’s national championship in 2002.

It was, for a night, Garyland - Williams amiably chatting with longtime admirers between attempts to positively spin a frustrating month that has featured struggles on the court and rancor off it.

The worst moments unfolded a few days earlier, notably an athletic department official hours before Tuesday’s game against Boston College publicly contradicting Williams’ comments on the departures of junior college guard Tyree Evans and forward Gus Gilchrist.

Williams responded defiantly afterward, a situation no doubt exacerbated by Maryland’s 76-67 loss. Either way, a schism between Williams and his superiors was revealed for all to see, and it left some prominent supporters hopeful of simply minimizing the damage from an ugly week.

And so Williams found a place filled with well-wishers, making a Laurel sports bar less than nine miles from College Park seem as if it were on a different planet than the lower levels of Comcast Center.

A source familiar with the athletic department said “many” of the top 100 donors were in attendance and noted such a turnout is usually noticed by a department sensitive to the wishes of its top financial backers. Meanwhile, Maryland supporters could only wonder just how things degenerated to this stage, especially in the middle of the season.

“It’s a black eye for the university,” said Rick Furlough, president of Fastbreakers, the support group of the men’s basketball program. “We’re out there trying to get recruits. This is negative, and this is what other ACC schools and other Division I schools want. They want to see all this negative publicity so they can say, ‘Gee, look at all this infighting.’ It’s a big black eye.”

And it’s one no one is terribly interested in rehashing, especially as the Terrapins (13-7, 2-4 ACC) approach Saturday night’s home meeting with Miami (14-6, 3-4).

“I’m just talking about Miami and our team for the rest of the year,” Williams said Friday. “That’s it.”

So he did, discussing among other things Eric Hayes’ recent struggles, the difficulty of defending Hurricanes guard Jack McClinton and signee Jordan Williams’ 50-point night in a high school basketball game and his nomination for the McDonald’s All-American game.

Pretty much anything, it turned out, other than his difficult week and its impact on his players. Athletic director Debbie Yow was in North Carolina for her sister’s funeral and was unavailable for comment, a school official said. Kay Yow died Jan. 24 after a battle with cancer.

So things returned to a relatively quiet state, something many of Maryland’s supporters hope will continue after what no one would dispute was a counterproductive couple of days for the program.

“Hopefully, this thing will get solved and we’ll go forward,” Furlough said, “because that’s what we need to do.”

The NCAA approved forward Jin Soo Kim’s eligibility appeal, and Williams said he would be available Saturday. Kim was declared academically ineligible at the start of the spring semester Monday and was unavailable for Tuesday’s loss to Boston College.

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