It looks as if the Maryland basketball team will be a little better this winter than people thought, primarily because of coach Gary Williams.
Williams' Terps, who are 3-0, gave indications of that Saturday in their 93-68 win over American University at College Park.
The game was supposed to be the first test for Maryland after easy wins over Mount St. Mary's and Maryland-Eastern Shore. But American was no match for the Terps -- not even when 6-foot-8 Walt Williams was on the Maryland bench for 10 minutes in the first half with three fouls.
"When Walt went out of the game, I thought we were in great shape," said AU coach Chris Knoche, who played under Gary Williams at American a decade ago.
But Maryland, without Walt, increased its lead from four to 17. How? By playing in-your-face, Gary Williams basketball. AU couldn't handle the pressure.
Fittingly, when American closed to within seven points in the second half, Walt Williams was back to score 10 points during a 12-1 Maryland spurt that put the game away. He finished with a game-high 24 points.
"Maryland plays very well together," Knoche said, "and they play hard."
That's Gary Williams' style -- playing hard. That's how the Terps forced AU into 33 turnovers, and how they caused Mount St. Mary's to turn the ball over 41 times -- a school record for the Mount.
And that's why Maryland, with ordinary talent except for Walt Williams, is a formidable opponent every time out.
"Maryland," said Knoche, "has a solid team and a takeover guy. Walt does everything. He's an NBA lottery pick. He's probably one of the top four or five players in the country."
Everyone knew Walt Williams was great. What we may have sold short is the ability of the other Williams, the coach, to extract superior performances from players such as Evers Burns and Vince Broadnax. The Terps are a classic example of the old axiom that a team takes on the personality of its coach.
Maryland's next game comes Wednesday night against Providence, part of the ACC-Big East Challenge, at the Meadowlands.
* The Maryland-American game reminded everyone of the interest that's generated by neighborhood rivalries. AU is in Washington; Maryland is situated inside the Capital Beltway.
Just as the Beltway Classic to be held at UMBC this coming Friday and Saturday nights is a natural with Loyola, Towson State and Mount St. Mary's competing along with the host school, so would an annual D.C. tournament with Maryland, AU, George Washington and Georgetown be.
"You'll never see it, not as long as John Thompson is coaching Georgetown," says a member of Maryland's athletic department. "John doesn't want to give us a chance to beat him. He figures he'd have nothing to gain and everything to lose."
* The knee-jerk reaction to Towson State's close call, 98-88 loss at North Carolina Saturday (Towson trailed by only five points with 49 seconds left) is that Towson would have won if Devin Boyd hadn't beenout with an injury.
Actually, Towson had a pretty good replacement for Boyd in freshman Terrance Alexander, from Dunbar. He was The Baltimore Sun's Player of the Year last year. In his first college start, Alexander had 17 points. It did not hurt Towson that Carolina's 7-footer Eric Montross sat out the game with an injury.
* Sam Huff, who is no rookie around the NFL, was asked on the Redskins' pre-game show yesterday why there has been so much sloppy play in the league this year, particularly by quarterbacks. Sam's answer: "It's a lack of talent. Remember, there are 28 teams in the league now." And what does that say for the talent the 29th and 30th teams are likely to get?
* Dave Nelson, the former Delaware coach and athletic director who died Saturday, leaves quite a mark on football. The admiral invented the Delaware wing-T and became one of the most copied coaches in the game. During a Delaware win over Navy a couple years ago, I asked him about the role of the booster club in Delaware's success. Answered Nelson:
"We wouldn't have one. When you create a booster club, you're creating your own lynch mob."