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Top of the Arc - February 14, 2009

Feb. 14, 8:30 p.m.: An undersized Maryland team that lacks an abundance of talent moved to the fringes of the NCAA tournament conversation by beating Virginia Tech, 83-73. The Terrapins would have a reasonable chance at an at-large berth with an 8-8 ACC record and a win in the conference tournament.

But no one inside Comcast Center was in the mood to dissect tournament resumes. Instead, on the heels of a three-part Washington Post series on Maryland’s recruiting, the team’s fans, its best player and even opposing coach Seth Greenberg chose to make strong statements in support of Terrapins Coach Gary Williams, whose recruiting struggles have come under scrutiny because his team is in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in five years.

Inside Maryland’s media room after the game, with assistant coaches positioned to monitor player interviews, Greivis Vasquez offered unconditional support for his coach and looked into the eyes of reporters and said, “He has got more money than all you guys put together. He is not worried about what you guys say.”

The usually outspoken, but always honest Vasquez also said “if I have to go to war with him, I will die for him.”

When a reporter followed up with a question, Vasquez added, “You are trying to kill him. He is a winner. He is a champion. You better start writing about games instead of writing about criticizing him. We are here to win games. We are not here to have him sit down and teach us about media and stuff. We are here to learn about basketball.”

In the moments leading up to the game, a raucous Comcast Center crowd saluted its head coach with the loudest ovation Williams has received in years. Fans donned T-shirts in support, some wore buttons. And most bellowed “Gary! Gary!” before he made his first appearance onto the floor.

Then they watched Maryland author one of its best performances of the season against an opponent that also is clawing for an at-large berth. The schedule is brutal: The Terrapins’s next three games are against teams (Clemson, North Carolina and Duke) in the top 10 of the RPI. But a Maryland team few saw having a chance to reach the NCAAs before the season began now has a glimmer of hope.

When a television reporter asked Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg for his thoughts about “what Gary is going through here,” Greenberg said: “Yeah, it’s a joke, it’s a joke. It is just an absolute joke. It is disgusting that he could go through that with what he has built.

“The reason there is a Comcast Center is Gary Williams. As a coach, seeing someone with the success that he has had have to have everyone that does not know what they don’t know second-guess a guy --- it is pretty disappointing. It is a reflection on our profession.”

Even Williams’s critics praise him for being one of the nation’s best coaches. And Williams told me in a recent hour-long interview that “I am not here to recruit. I am here to win games.” This season, he has already won 16 with a team that has its share of limitations.

“It’s a business, man,” Vasquez said. “And he does it pretty well, no matter what anyone says. He is still going to be the best coach in the area.”

By Eric Prisbell  |  February 14, 2009; 8:27 PM ET
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I just want to comment on the superb timing of the Washington Post's series. What, with the Terps now 16-8, and 5-5 in the ACC, in a season where they weren't expected to do much of anything, the Post picks this week of all weeks to attack Gary Williams in the most despicable and slimy way. The Terps have now won 3 of 4 in the league and are playing their best ball of the season.

Man, great timing Eric and Steve. Really great.

Posted by: Barno1 | February 15, 2009 12:10 AM

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