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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 yandas@washpost.com.

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.”

By Steve Yanda  |  April 2, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Men's basketball  
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Next: Let's get together (confirmation)

Comments

Gary Williams, from unheralded prospect out of NJ to future HOF coach, just another in a seemingly endless series of great things Gary did.

Posted by: Barno1 | April 2, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

It's hard to figure out why Gary is not in Springfield, Mass. He is a competitor down to the last fiber of his being. I think he relishes the criticism he receives and the naysayers to prove wrong every year. Could he turn a skinny kid from Venezuela into an NBA-calibur point guard? Most would have said probably not in 2006, but in 2010, we're just trying to figure out what lottery team will take Greivis with their 1st pick. I mean, he turned Dave Neal into a serviceable ACC center last season, and follows it up by having the patience to deal with a talented freshman that had some troubles learning his way around a complex offense before just missing out on ACC Freshman of the year to a sure-fire lottery pick.

Gary is a fighter, and the most tireless worker in College Park, but for whatever reason, people are more concerned with how many blue chippers he brings in, not the number of seasoned professionals he cranks out or how sweet the lemonade is from the sourest lemons.

Posted by: Russtinator | April 2, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Russtinator,

By all reports, Hauker Paulson is underwhelming...he doesn't even start for his high school team. Yet, GW saw him in person and offered him a scholly on the spot.

What exactly did GW see in this kid that no one else has? How will he develop? I am very intrigued by this little subplot. Talk about having to make lemonade out of lemons.

Posted by: larry31 | April 2, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

larry31,

You pick the least touted recruit in what is a very good class and whine about him. First of all, the kid is on a really, really good team, so he does not get much burn. Secondly, by all reports, he is a really good shooter and plays hard on D. He will be a good role player I think. Vandy, which is a pretty good program, was very interested in this kid, by the way.

T. Stoglin, P. Howard, M. Parker, and Pankey (although he is a little banged up) are all pretty darn good recruits, maybe you should comment on them.

Posted by: dc83TERP | April 2, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

This was one of Gary's best seasons and he's had quite a few of them, though many are a distant memory. As for the recruiting class, well, it leaves something to be desired.

Posted by: SirPelleas | April 2, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Congrats Gary, you deserve it all. I look forward to driving up to Springfield someday to hear your acceptance speech.

Posted by: jpfterps | April 2, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Russtinator,

By all reports, Hauker Paulson is underwhelming...he doesn't even start for his high school team. Yet, GW saw him in person and offered him a scholly on the spot.

What exactly did GW see in this kid that no one else has? How will he develop? I am very intrigued by this little subplot. Talk about having to make lemonade out of lemons.

Posted by: larry31 | April 2, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

I wrote this before. Read the Terrapin Times Larry. Yes, we should be excited about Hawk (his nickname in Florida). He's a 4.0 student who speaks 3 languages fluently, a kid who is considered very coachable (great fit for Gary) and the ONLY reason he didn't start, according to his own high school coach, is because he came to this program late vs the other kids who start ahead of them have been there all 4 years. The other kids starting on this team are all D1 players, some of which are going to the ACC and Big East.

Posted by: Barno1 | April 2, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Also, I honestly don't get why any close observers and fans of the Terps would ever question an unheralded Gary recruit. You're just ignoring history.

From national superstars like Joe Smith, Juan Dixon, Lonnie Baxter, to All ACC type stars like DJ Strawberry, Jamar Smith, Jordan Williams etc his track record is infinitely better with unheralded recruits than the blue chipper McDonalds All Americans like Mike Jones, Travis Garrison, Danny Miller, Ekene Ibekwe, etc.

There are exceptions like Steve Francis and Keith Booth, but those are few and far between. Why ignore the pattern and pretend Gary's done better with the big name recruits? What purpose does that serve?

Posted by: Barno1 | April 2, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

So Barno how long must we wait for a Sweet 16 spot? For a Top 10 Ranking? 5 years? 7 years? 10 years? Never again until Gary leaves?

Posted by: restonhoops | April 2, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

How about a post about GV's Good Morning America appearance to surprise/support the kid shooting a basket for everyone in the US diagnosed with inoperable brain tumors?

Posted by: fushezzi | April 2, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

So Barno how long must we wait for a Sweet 16 spot? For a Top 10 Ranking? 5 years? 7 years? 10 years? Never again until Gary leaves?

Posted by: restonhoops | April 2, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Yeah let's fire Gary bc the Michigan St kid hit an incredible buzzer beater. Reston, do you have any idea how unintelligent you are?

Posted by: Barno1 | April 2, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Ha! Didn't take long for the "Fire Gary" crowd to start up. The man is a HOF coach who brought UMd back from the wilderness to win a national championship. He runs a clean program and is one of the best in-game coaches in the country. Last season he tied for the ACC Championship and was one second away from the Sweet Sixteen and an open road to the Final Four. Anyone who doesn't think he is the best coach Maryland could wish for either doesn't know basketball or is a certified moron.

Posted by: aviscardo | April 3, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

If we assume an average team will win 50% of its games over time then it's very hard indeed to suggest Maryland could find a better coach than Gary Williams. He's consistently done much better than 50% and more importantly, has significantly exceeded, season after season, the pre-season predictions by 'experts'. This year's team showed themselves to be top 16 performers. Note that the objective Pomeroy ratings placed Maryland no. 11. It's very hard to imagine some other coach improving on William's yearly efforts and I haven't seen a compelling or reasonable argument that he should be replaced.

Posted by: AncientTerp | April 4, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

I cannot understand so-called fans who are just not happy with the success of this program. Would it be nice to make the final 4 or sweet sixteen every year, sure. However, that is just not realistic evey year. Should Kansas fire Bill Self because they flamed out to Northern Iowa with quite possibly their best team since the Collison/Gooden years? Should UNC fire Roy Williams for getting knocked out in the NIT title game?

Of course not, and Gary should not be fired for getting a senior-laden team to the NCAA tournament along with a regular-season ACC title to boot. Izzo is probably the only other coach in America I would rather see coaching the Terps, and it's obvious he's not avaible even though Phil Knight tried to buy him an office in Oregon's fancy new building.

Gary represents consistancy, and the foundation of what virtually every other college backetball program in the country wishes it had. Every other school in the ACC aside from Duke and UNC is trying to find a coach like Gary that can compete with the mystique of those two programs. NCState thought they had it with a former point guard. Wake had it for a while because of one player (Tim Duncan) and a later dynamic coach (Prosser). Virginia hasn't had it since Ralph Sampson. GaTech wants to fire the coach that has already done it and can continue to compete (Hewitt). BC has proved that even with a great coach (Skinner), a Jesuit school cannot compete consistently in the ACC. Va Tech is still trying to find its way in the ACC, but has the right guy at the helm (Greenberg). Clemson cannot find their way out of a paper bag in March, but two of the last three coaches are probably not completely to blame (Purnell and Barnes). Florida State is a program that may never regain the traction it had during the Charlie Ward days, and Miami is a program that will never finish in the top three of the ACC.

In the end, only one NCAA tournament team wins its last game, and the Terps got nipped by a buzzer beater to a team that eventually made the Final Four. There's not reason for fans to criticize the job that Gary did this year, and little reason to worry that Gary will not be able to replicate his past successes in the future.

Posted by: Russtinator | April 5, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

You GaryFans need to take your glasses off. Maryland was not a Top 16 team this year. They haven't been in 7 years. There is nothing that shows they will be next year and quite frankly the recruits we are bringing in next year look like quite mediocre. Ohio State has two first team Parade All Americans coming in. Since when is Ohio State a better program than MD? Maryland will not be relevant on the national stage until Gary leaves period. Class dismissed.

Posted by: restonhoops | April 7, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Barno again let's all be honest and not try to pretend we should of beaten MSU. They were in command of the game from start to finish. If their best player and point guard doesn't get hurt they probably win going away in the 15-20 point range.

Posted by: restonhoops | April 7, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

"Barno again let's all be honest and not try to pretend we should of beaten MSU."

Posted by: restonhoops | April 7, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Should "of"? I believe the word you are looking for Reston is should "have". Are you sure you've a diploma from the University of Maryland?

Posted by: Barno1 | April 7, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Should say: are you sure you've GOT a diploma from the U of MD?

Posted by: Barno1 | April 7, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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