Gary Williams wouldn't have it any other way

MIKE LITTWIN

February 15, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

Even if Gary Williams goes to sleep each night and dreams fondly of days at Ohio State, he still wakes up each morning at Maryland. And the wonder is, he can smile about it. All Ohio State could do is maybe win a national championship (if Vegas opts for the NBA by March), while Maryland -- no lights, no cameras, no tournament action -- is in the business of producing minor miracles.

Take the Georgia Tech game of Wednesday night as a small example. Forget the upset win. Upset wins happen -- it's why they play the games -- and, besides, Tech hasn't exactly been on a roll lately.

The miracle is the score. Maryland scored 96 points to Tech's 93.

I have one question: Who are they kidding?

Coaches like to look at their players, analyze their offensive potential and determine a scoring level at which the team can be successful. With Maryland, that should be somewhere in the mid-40s. If you just look at the team on paper, Maryland basketball has all the offensive potential of Luxembourg. I don't want to knock the personnel -- these guys got the 96, didn't they? -- but we're not talking the obvious elements of a scoring machine. The only way they should come anywhere near 100 is with a thermometer.

"I try not to think about the points," Williams was saying yesterday. "We don't talk about that. The subject comes up, and it's time to move on.

"But, you know, it's hard to figure out where they come from."

It was 96 against Georgia Tech and 100 against N.C. State, and a 13-10 record, three wins in the league, a 5-4 record since Walt Williams, the Terps' one legitimate offensive threat, went down. This stuff shouldn't happen. This was supposed to be a lost season at Maryland, the one in which the Terps paid for all their past sins. You expected them to exchange jerseys for hair shirts. And the only good news was that the team wouldn't be on TV. I mean, who wanted to watch that?

Gary Williams prepared himself for the worst, but that was before Walt Williams was injured and out possibly for the season. No one could have prepared for that. No one dreamed it would get quite that bad.

And then came the 100 against State and the 96 against Tech and large blessings on the heads of this little team.

Check out the names: Matt Roe, Cedric "No, I'm Not Derrick" Lewis, Evers Burns (recruited by Oklahoma -- for football), Vince Broadnax (the walk-on turned star), Kevin McLinton, Garfield Smith, Matthew Downing. You think Gary Williams can coach? Two years ago, Bob Wade won one game in the ACC with Tony Massenburg, Jerrod Mustaf, Walt Williams, Teyon McCoy, John Johnson, Dave Dickerson and Jesse Martin. I can't wait to see what Williams can do with a team that has some players.

What he does with this team is have it play as hard as any team can. And he has the players believing in themselves more than they have any right to. They don't know they're supposed to lose. They don't know about odds stacked against them. They think that if you play hard and play smart that good things can happen to you. Go figure.

"People always ask me about Ohio State," said Williams, who left OhioState two years ago to come to Maryland -- no, don't go to Williams for career advice. "I get that every day. But I just look at the pleasure I get from these guys and the pleasure that comes not just from the wins but the effort they put forth.

"It isn't always enough to win, but we have enough success so that they keep on believing in themselves. Vince Broadnax is the best example. When I came here, I didn't even know his name. He was a walk-on. He starts off as a role player. Then he becomes a defensive player. Then he's a starter. Then he's an offensive threat. And there he was, guarding Kenny Anderson down the stretch when he's playing with four fouls. This is someone who likes the challenge. This is someone you're pretty sure was told he'd never be good enough to play in the ACC."

Maryland has an entire team that somebody might have told was not good enough to play in the ACC. If you look at talent level, this is an Atlantic 10 team, not an Atlantic Coast team.

On Saturday, North Carolina comes to College Park, the same North Carolina team that won by 30 in Chapel Hill, the same North Carolina team that has more All-Americans than Maryland has scholarship players, the same North Carolina team that should blow the Terps away. But the Maryland players don't necessarily buy it, not after beating the same Georgia Tech team that had, in their last meeting, charged out to a 24-5 lead.

So, they'll play and they'll play hard, and maybe something good will happen. Williams is pretty sure something good happens every game.

"They miss not being eligible for the tournament," Williams said. "They miss the exposure. But the actual games themselves, the feeling of being out there, the camaraderie, they have all that. It's theirs."

And Williams gets something, too. Let's consider the man. If anything, he coaches too hard, pushes too hard, drives himself too hard. This year, he had to come to grips with the idea that winning couldn't be everything for this team, which isn't the worst lesson to have to learn (and not the only one he has been forced to learn, either).

"It's been very rewarding personally," Williams said. "I know it's been really good for me. As a coach, you like to think that if you work hard, you can make things happen. I just like the way these guys compete."

It's the rarest thing for the Maryland basketball program -- a nice, controversy-free story. Maybe there will even be more.

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