Maryland men's basketball season recap: Gary Williams
This week, Terrapins Insider will take a look back on the 2009-10 Maryland men’s basketball season from an individual standpoint. We’ll discuss how each player’s year went and look ahead to his role on the team going forward. Readers are encouraged to provide their thoughts in the comments section below or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The day before Maryland hosted Duke on Senior Night, Terrapins Coach Gary Williams was asked whether the 2009-10 campaign had been one of his more enjoyable coaching seasons. After all, the Terrapins were en route to a share of the ACC regular season title, an undefeated home record in ACC play and a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Oh, and Williams also was overseeing the final season in the collegiate careers of an accomplished senior class, which was led by Greivis Vasquez, a player with whom Williams developed an intensely close bond over the past four years.
“Yes” would seem like a perfectly logical and acceptable answer, then. Instead, Williams’s response provided some insight into an approach that has delivered him through his 32 seasons as a head coach.
“It’s been enjoyable for the people involved,” Williams said. “I think that determines a lot of your enjoyment with the team. Winning’s great, but the people you have that you see every day, just like any other job, is very important to how you feel about things.”
The thought, while genuine, speaks to how insular Williams feels he must become in order to get the most out of his players. Did he enjoy the success Maryland experienced this season? Perhaps he does now, or will in the coming weeks and months. But in the moment, Williams might not be capable of enjoying the thread of a season. Maryland went 13-3 in ACC play, in large part because of Williams’s strategies and leadership. In terms of X’s and O’s, Williams has few equals in the conference.
But from listening to Williams talk before and after games, it seemed as though there wasn’t much room for anything other than the next task. That’s not meant as a criticism so much as it is an observation on a man who’s triumphed more than an overwhelming majority of those in his profession, yet has been reluctant to absorb his vast accomplishments.
On March 9, the day Williams was honored as this season’s ACC coach of the year, he told this story:
“When we won the national championship in 2002, we jumped around for a little bit and then we walked across the court and CBS was doing a thing and they were away on commercial and there was this guy about six rows up in the Georgia Dome with a ‘Fear the Turtle’ t-shirt on, and he said, ‘Congratulations,’ and I said, ‘Thanks,’ ” Williams said. “And then he said, ‘How are you going to be next year?’ That was about three minutes after the game was over. That's part of the thing with coaching where you really have to stay focused.”
Williams has done so, and his teams have reaped the benefits as a result. This season, Williams led Maryland to a 24-9 record with a mostly veteran cast of players. With the exception of freshman forward Jordan Williams – who proved to be a quick learner – the rest of the Terrapins who played significant minutes entered the season well familiar with Gary Williams’s offensive and defensive systems.
Vasquez kept his emotions more under control than in seasons past. Senior guard Eric Hayes was back in the starting lineup and knocking down three-pointers left and right. Senior forward Landon Milbourne started off the year strong, shouldering a heavy load in the post while Jordan Williams got his feet under him. Sophomore guard Sean Mosley found a way to contribute almost every night.
By February, the Terrapins owned a strong starting five that understood and could carry out their respective roles. There weren’t any significant outside distractions. There weren’t many detractors. There was just winning. Lots of it. Maryland went the entire season without losing more than two games in a row. And the Terrapins only did that once – at the Maui Invitational in late November.
No, the Terrapins did not meet the expectations they set for themselves before the season began. They did not advance past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. They fell 6.6 seconds and a Korie Lucious three-pointer short of that goal. And you hope that’s not what sticks with Williams. You hope that’s not what he thinks of first when this season – one in which Maryland attained numerous individual and group achievements – comes to mind.
But maybe it will, and maybe that’s partially what will drive him toward future accomplishments – memories of previous shortcomings.
On the same day Williams told the story about the man in the stands at the Georgia Dome in 2002, Vasquez was honored as the ACC player of the year. And here’s what he had to say about his first encounter with his coach after the two of them had received such lofty recognition.
“I’m a little concerned about that because if we talk face to face I guess we’re going to really cry in front of each other,” Vasquez said. “We’re both so emotional and stuff. I’d rather see him in practice fired up and yelling to everybody. I just love him, man. I love him. I’m so happy for him. More than I’m happy for me, I’m happy for him, because this man works so hard. So hard. And I know I’m going to see him in practice right now, and I can picture him just being like he didn’t win anything. I want to be like him. I want to be like him. And I’m going to go to practice like I didn’t win anything, so I want to get better, too.”
April 2, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories: Men's basketball
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