A little more than a year ago, Gary Williams and his University of Maryland men’s basketball program was under attack. The Washington Post led the charge, with an assist, it seems, from the Maryland athletic department. The word was that Willaims had lost his touch and might well lose his job.
A stirring win against North Carolina, the eventual national champions, and a trip to the NCAA tournament ended most of that talk. However, there’s no doubt that the vultures were ready to pounce again as soon as the team’s performance fell below their expectations.
Expectations were pretty high for this season. The Terps graduated only one important player — small forward cum center Dave Neal — and were able to replace him with a bona fide center — freshman Jordan Williams. The team started a little slowly, but as Willaims improved and his backup Dino Gregory came back from suspension, things picked up.
Today, Maryland is an second place in the ACC with a conference record of 11-3. Although the ACC is experiencing a down year, this is still quite an accomplishment. Maryland has its NCAA bid locked up, and if we can beat Duke at home this week, a tournament seed will not be out of the question.
The three most recent victories have been the most remarkable. They provide further evidence (if the Washington Post still needs it) of the grit that has always characterized teams coached by Gary Williams.
Last weekend, Maryland got by Georgia Tech thanks to an off-balance three-pointer off an in-bounds play that began with one second on the clock. Moments earlier, another Maryland three-pointer, this one from beyond half-court, had been waved off after the bench called time-out.
Next, Maryland came from 15 points down to beat Clemson. Neither Georgia Tech nor Clemson is a great team, but they’re both pretty good, and they were playing with the intensity you see this time of year from teams on the “bubble” of the NCAA tournament.
Yesterday, Maryland went on the road to play Viriginia Tech, a team that has yet to lose at home this year. The game was delayed by three hours due to a series of burst water pipes that flooded parts of the campus including the gym. The game proved worth waiting for. Maryland won in double overtime, with star guard Greivis Vasquez scoring 41 points.
Coaching college big-time college basketball is a young man’s racket these days. Its demands go well beyond teaching fundamentals and X’s and O’s, inspiring the team, and maintaining discipline on the court, around the campus, and in the classroom. Coaches are also expected to make themselves appealing to 18 year-old recruits, their parents, and assorted hangers-on.
Williams has never been that adept at winning these beauty contests. But his consolation has been recruits who reflect his personality and who, by virtue of not being super-stars, tend to remain at College Park for four years. There has never been a better example than Greivis Vasquez, a strong candidate for ACC player of the year but not, according to reports, for the first round of the NBA draft.
The product on the floor has been, and remains, something Maryland fans should be proud of.
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