Tuesday, October 25, 2005

There will be still another basketball incarnation this winter for Michael Adams, once a dead-on guard for the Washington Bullets and more recently a successful head coach for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.

Now Adams has traveled a few miles north to become an assistant coach with Gary Williams’ Maryland Terrapins, and if you want to hear something scary, try this: He says he coaches “with the same level of intensity” as his new boss.

Considering that Gary is about the most intense guy in college hoops, we can expect to see Michael sweating through a whole haberdashery’s worth of suits this season. Or putting it another way, fellow assistants Rob Moxley and Keith Booth might have to slap headlocks on both of ‘em when Williams and/or Adams feel they’ve been unfairly zapped by the zebras.

(Mutter! Sputter! How in the name of Jimmy Naismith could you call/not call that foul?)

The two have been simpatico ever since Adams captained three of Williams’ teams at Boston College in the early 1980s. So when Dave Dickerson and Mike Lonergan departed College Park after last season to become head coaches at Tulane and Vermont, respectively, it made sense for Williams and Adams to stage a reunion.

“It wasn’t easy to leave the Mystics,” said Adams, who coached the perennial losers to a 17-17 record and into the WNBA playoffs in 2004 despite the absence of All-Star Chamique Holdsclaw much of the season because of depression. “I’ve always wanted to work for Gary, but there were no openings. This [offer] came out of the blue, and I decided it was the best career opportunity for me.”

Williams’ version: “You always want assistants who are on the same wavelength, and Michael and I have been good friends for a long time. He knows how I like to play, and he can relate to a lot of our players because he came from the same kind of background.”

Meaning difficult. Adams was one of nine children in his Hartford, Conn., family and the first to graduate from college. As he notes, if you were late to dinner, you didn’t get to eat.

“Nobody ever gave me anything,” he added yesterday in his office at Comcast Center. “I had to earn a scholarship at Boston College and prove I could play at that level. I was only a third-round NBA draft choice [by the Sacramento Kings in ‘85]. But I had a big heart, and I wasn’t afraid of anything.”

Those qualities, along with a sizable serving of chutzpah, led to a sterling 11-year NBA career (14.2 scoring average) that ended in 1996 with Charlotte. Adams long has been known as a nice guy, but if any Maryland players think he’ll be easy because of his ready smile and publicly low-key manner, they’re about to be surprised.

“Some guys, the great ones, are self-motivated, others you have to motivate,” he said. “My job is to be straight with them, let them know nothing comes easy, that there’s no easy way to play for Gary. You’ve got to pay attention, come in ready to work and be ready all the time to learn and play the right way.”

Which means smartly and unselfishly. Otherwise Williams — and Adams — will be waiting with figurative fangs bared when you come back to the bench. And so far his players seem to be listening.

“He was a pro for a long time and since all college players want to be pros, it makes sense to listen to him,” said senior guard Chris McCray, a three-year veteran. “What he’s doing mostly is making sure we play smart.”

And, said fellow guard D.J. Strawberry, a junior, “Coach Adams can teach what you have to do to be a great point guard because he has so much experience.”

Before a scrimmage the other day, Adams was taking a turn shooting hoops with his players — and hitting more shots from downtown than any 42-year-old guy should.

“He always had a great 3-point shot [.332 NBA career average], and that’s where we need to improve,” Williams said.

Gary undoubtedly is too ethical to try and sneak Adams into the backcourt this season when the Terps desperately need a 3 against, say, Duke — but you have to wonder if the thought ever crosses his mind. But no, Williams is happy just to have Michael at his side and whispering sweet somethings into his ear at crucial junctures.

“With everything he’s been through, he’ll help all our players,” said Williams, who didn’t get to be one of the nation’s premier college basketball coaches by being wrong very often.

Indeed Michael Adams looks like a perfect fit for Gary Williams, and vice versa. It should be a fun winter watching them rant and rave together.

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