Gary on Recruiting Geeks and Making the Tourney
Gary Williams has been mostly gracious in victory this week, refusing to gloat about his critics, or the media, or the experts, or anyone else. He's argued that this tourney berth wasn't about redemption, but was merely about maintaining what Maryland has done for more than a decade. No big deal.
Which is all fine, but when I go out on a mild limb and say Michigan State is going to the Final Four, you can bet that if I'm right, I'll gloat for weeks. I haven't wanted to see the gracious-in-victory Gary; that's boring. I've wanted the well-maybe-I-do-recruit-well-enough-after-all Gary, the where-are-your-five-stars-now Gary, the 13-berths-in-16-years Gary.
That guy finally emerged this morning, in a long interview with the Junkies on WJFK. (Listen here.) He took some shots at Cinderella automatic qualifiers ("Well it's great, except half those teams couldn't win a game in the ACC"), but more on that later. This was clearly friendly territory; the Junkies are avowed Gary fans, and they were openly on his side during the Great Doubts in January. Perhaps because of that reason, here's what he eventually said this morning.
"Our recruits are good enough to go to the NCAA tournament," he said. "There's a lot of schools that supposedly got great recruits, but they're not in the NCAA tournament. So that's the bottom line. See, this recruiting thing has really changed, I'd say in the last 10 years, where there's a lot of geeks out there that only care about who you recruit. They could care less about how you do during the season or whatever--if you don't get the kid they think you should get, then you're not recruiting well. Well, we recruited well enough to go to the NCAA tournament this year."
Yee-haw. That's the redeeming angel of told-you-so vengeance that I've been waiting for. I was trying to think whether there are any schools in the immediate vicinity of College Park that supposedly got great recruits but missed the NCAA tournament this year, but for the life of me I just can't think of any. Nope, no idea what he was talking about there.
The Junkies also broke out one of the standard--and understandable--lines used by Gary supporters: that they remember what it was like when he got to College Park, and that the transformation has essentially earned him a lifetime pass.
"You remember it; very few people there at the university remember it," Williams said. "You know, they weren't around 20 years ago. The students weren't born. I just walked in there from Ohio State, where everything was done to promote your program. They didn't care how big football was. The bigger the better. If it dominated the whole state, it didn't matter, the whole thing.
"And now I come to Maryland and we were afraid. We were afraid to be good. We were afraid to say we were great. We were afraid to tell people to shut up and quit talking about Bias and let's move on to the next decade and things like that. You know, when I'm done, whenever that is, that's what I'll take the most pride in, the fact that we were able to turn that mentality around and to help make it a great university. In other words, every part of the university that can be great certainly helps the school, and it took awhile for people to understand that."
Look, this was a great listen, and you should obviously go hear for yourself (listen here!), but I'll just highlight two more passages. One, when he was asked whether he gets frustrated during moment's like this year's Great Doubt, when critics were chirping and (some) fans were booing.
"I get frustrated when they get on the players, I really do," he said. "Because this year--I'll say this about our team and I don't think anybody can deny this--our guys played hard every game. I mean, there was no game where we didn't play hard. I don't remember a game. I don't care if it was Morgan State, whoever, we played hard. And that's all you can do as a player....So that bothers me when our fans get on the players.
"Coaches, you take that, that's part of the deal. But this year was a little different. You know, we had several things on the outside which I don't quite understand, because It took us four years to get off those sanctions for the previous coaching staff. So the last 16 years we've been to 13 NCAA tournaments. If you look around the country, give me another program besides say North Carolina and Duke that's done that. You know? That's what I don't understand. I don't know where it comes from. I have an idea, but I can't prove it. But it's just there, and 13 out of 16 NCAAs, let's just start there and see who's done that."
(Here's the answer: Over the last 16 years, Arizona has 16 trips, Kansas has 16 trips, Duke has 15 trips, Kentucky has 15 trips, Texas has 15 trips, Michigan State has 14 trips, UNC has 14 trips, UCLA has 14 trips, U-Conn. has 13 trips, Illinois has 13 trips, Indiana has 13 trips, Oklahoma has 13 trips, Stanford has 13 trips and Wisconsin has 13 trips. That's a total of 15 schools, including Maryland. Not trying to be difficult, but I was just curious. It's still pretty elite company.)
And then lastly, Williams was asked directly about the idea of expanding the field, which he's supported in the past.
"You know what I did last night?" he responded. "I looked at the brackets in the NIT. You know how many good teams are in the NIT that are easily as good as half the teams in the NCAA tournament? And the reason the NCAA tournament was expanded from 16 to 32 to 48 to 64 to 65 was the same reason every time, because there was more good teams. So there's more good teams now, so why wouldn't you expand?
"Kids are not getting the chance to play in the NCAA tournament that have played well enough to be in there, that's what's broken. What separates us from Virginia Tech, just in our conference? Or Miami? Not much. Not much. You look at Auburn, you look at some teams that really played well down the stretch that didn't get in. I think there's room for teams like that to play, and they're not gonna embarrass themselves....
"All you guys that like that [automatic qualifiers], that say isn't that great? Well it's great, except half those teams couldn't win a game in the ACC....There's no next year Ask some coaches that are gonna be let go this year if there's next year."
Snide shots at the Ohio Valley champion aside, I'm not sure I don't agree with him on this one. How is having more games to agonize over a bad thing, anyhow?
March 18, 2009; 11:56 AM ET
Categories: College Basketball , Media , Terps
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