Williams' ties to city stretch beyond Terps

Bill Tanton

January 19, 1993|By Bill Tanton

Not that he wanted to come here with a four-game losin streak, but Gary Williams is excited about being in Baltimore tonight.

When he tells people that, it's not just recruiting talk.

Nor is it ticket-selling talk for his Maryland basketball team's 8 p.m. game with Oklahoma at the Arena.

Gary Williams genuinely likes our town. He always has -- and his record supports that.

Since Jim Tatum's time, the university has had coaches and administrators who knew Maryland was perceived by many here as "a Washington school."

Without exception, they paid lip service to Baltimore. Great city, they said. Got to bring this city into the Terps picture. Why, we have more alumni in Baltimore than anywhere, they reminded us.

They talked a good game. Gary Williams has lived it.

"When I was a student at Maryland [class of 1967]," Gary was saying as he scanned the Baltimore Arena during practice yesterday, "I used to come here to see the Baltimore Bullets play.

"I was here the night Gus Johnson shattered a backboard. Gus did it before it was fashionable. I was a Kevin Loughery fan."

Williams played for coach Bud Millikan at Maryland. Gary averaged 4.5 points, perfect for a future coach.

The game wasn't easy for him. He had to work at it. He had to think. He had to study basketball to keep his starting job.

Looking back on that time, even Millikan -- who's alive and well in Atlanta and coaching his Little League grandchildren -- recalls that Williams was a coach on the floor.

Through all the years that Gary was a coach on the bench, in high school in New Jersey, at colleges in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, D.C., and Ohio, he yearned to come back, someday, to College Park. He loved the place. He also had developed a fondness for the city 35 miles to the northeast.

"I used to go to Orioles games at Memorial Stadium," he said. "I loved baseball. Still do."

Williams was here for Opening Day at Oriole Park last April. He was there numerous times last summer.

He has friends here, and he enjoys having dinner with them in Little Italy. He loves crabs. You can't get crabs in Columbus, Ohio.

He has even come to Baltimore for lacrosse. When Maryland played at Johns Hopkins last spring and beat the Blue Jays, Williams was there.

He learned to like lacrosse when he was a student at Maryland. His friend and classmate, Buddy Beardmore, was the Terps' star.

If Williams had not had this undying love for his alma mater, he would not have left Ohio State to take this job. The Terps were headed for hard times because of NCAA sanctions -- harder times, actually, than Gary realized.

When the no-TV, no postseason play sanctions were handed down, many believed Williams would leave Maryland. They felt it would take five years for him to dig out from under. It could ruin his career, people said.

But those people didn't understand Gary's loyalty to his old school. They certainly didn't know that part of the appeal to him was nearby Baltimore.

When Williams became Maryland's basketball coach in 1989, one of the first things he did was express his desire to play a game in Baltimore.

"Maryland hadn't played here since 1987," Gary said, "and I didn't want to come here and play against a poor opponent. I wanted a top attraction, and tonight we have it."

Oklahoma, ranked No. 12 in this week's Associated Press poll, has a 12-3 record. But the Sooners are the No. 1 offensive team in the country.

Obviously, they figure to be too strong for Maryland. The Terps, heavily laden with freshmen, are 8-5 but have lost all of their last four games to Atlantic Coast Conference opponents. The program needs two more waves of recruits before it cracks the top 25.

People will say Williams is talking up Baltimore because he wants to recruit Dunbar High's Keith Booth. He would love to get Booth. He would love to start getting Dunbar players.

But no matter where Booth goes next year, Gary Williams will still be a Baltimore supporter. He'll be at Orioles games. He'll dine in Little Italy. He'll play more games at the Arena. And he'll recruit here.

"All you have to do is look at a map and you can see where the people are in Maryland," he said. "There's a lot of basketball talent in Baltimore. We really want to start bringing these kids to our state university."

What should further endear Williams to Baltimore is his involvement in the community. He's on the board of the Cancer Research Center at the University of Maryland Hospital here, which will receive some of the proceeds from tonight's game.

Baltimore lawyer/agent Ron Shapiro, who's also on that board, says Gary is an active board member.

When Williams' team runs out on the Arena floor tonight, it will be a special moment for the coach. He wants to play more games here. And he hopes those games will be Baltimore homecomings for some of his players of the future.

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