- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2012

For decades — plural — Maryland’s annual home game against Duke meant a few things were guaranteed.

The arena, be it Cole Field House or Comcast Center, would be packed and abuzz well before tip. A top-10 team usually would occupy the visitor’s bench. And Gary Williams‘ fist pump would be especially emphatic and start a frenzy that often lasted until the final buzzer.

Maryland (12-6, 2-2 ACC) anticipates its first sellout of the season Wednesday night when the No. 8 Blue Devils (16-3, 4-1) visit College Park. Williams probably will produce a vigorous fist pump when he’s introduced.

Of course, it will come more than 20 minutes before tip, when Gary Williams Court will be publicly unveiled. Williams retired last year after 22 seasons that featured 461 victories, the only two Final Four appearances in school history and the 2002 national championship.

The role of the retired coach is one Williams is still settling in to. He’s done studio and game analyst work for the Big Ten Network. He agreed to a deal with AM-980 in Washington recently. He’ll serve as the tournament host of a Nationwide Tour event at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm later in the year.

He’s busy, no doubt, finding a full life even after the end of his 33-year run as a head coach.

“I was on a basketball team when I was 8 years old,” Williams, 66, said this week. “From that point, I’ve either been coaching or playing in a basketball season. Naturally, it’s different, that’s for sure. Especially with the coaching part of it, you can get into a routine where school would start, practice would start, games would start, the recruiting period would start. You’re set with what you’re going to do most of the year.

“Not coaching or being involved means you’re creating things that happen rather than fulfilling them.”

He’s also made it out to some games locally, catching the teams of former assistants Jimmy Patsos (Loyola) and Mike Lonergan (George Washington) in December and taking in Loyola’s meeting with Siena in Baltimore on Thursday

He watched last week from courtside seats, and found himself surrounded at halftime by several fans who frequented Maryland games in College Park throughout his tenure. Many more attended Monday night’s private court unveiling, which Williams — who still lives in the area — didn’t have to travel far to attend.

“You’ve got to feel things for a while to see,” Williams said. “You don’t retire and say ‘I’m moving to Florida.’ I wasn’t like that. I thought I coached enough. Let’s find out this year what’s there and what I like to do and how much I want to commit to something. I’m not committing myself to something unless I really want to do it. That’s what I was as a coach. I didn’t look at 14 hours during the season as drudgery.”

Wednesday might be different than the dinner earlier in the week, if only because so many more people will be in attendance. But the sentiment won’t be different toward the man who transformed a reeling program into a regular postseason participant — and, for one stretch, one of the best teams in the land.

Gary impacted the community of Maryland more than people think,” Patsos said. “It was all Georgetown. Gary got the university on the map. He got Maryland basketball on the map. He took over and got us to be at the top of the ACC. He made Maryland basketball a complete part of the Maryland community. The state of Maryland loves Maryland basketball through and through.”

The court-naming — approved in September — stands as a testament to the enormity of Williams‘ contributions. But he has not lingered in College Park, allowing successor Mark Turgeon to establish his own identity.

“I don’t think there’s any question he’s on my side,” Turgeon said. “You always worry about that when you take a job, but he’s gone above and beyond to let people know — people that really matter to our program — that he thinks I’m the right guy for this job.”

Williams was the right guy for the job all those years, perpetually prepared and eager to maximize the ability of his team. Wednesday is different; even if some of his contemporaries — Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins — have received the same honor, there isn’t a way to fully prepare for this sort of recognition.

“I’m kind of playing this by ear and just seeing how it is,” Williams said. “It’s certainly a great honor. I think it’s something you never thought would happen. You just coach. You don’t think of things like that. The idea that the board of regents and people like that gave it the OK certainly means a lot.”

NOTES:Williams‘ pregame ceremony, which is expected to last about six minutes, begins at 8:45 p.m. Maryland officials are urging fans to arrive early.

• Turgeon said he was unsure if freshman Alex Len, who suffered a right ankle sprain in Saturday’s loss to Temple, will play. Len did not practice Monday.

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