Entering his sixth season at Maryland, Gary Williams has put the team -- and himself -- back into the spotlight, as the expectations grow... HIGHER and HIGHER

October 12, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

College Park -- The telephone kept ringing behind Gary Williams as he sat in his office. A coach from South America wanted to come watch Williams run his University of Maryland basketball team through preseason workouts -- for a couple of weeks. The business school needed Williams to speak at a breakfast meeting. A fan was trying to secure tickets.

"It's getting a little crazy around here," said Williams.

Williams wasn't complaining. In fact, he is slowly firing up his own internal engines, moving from the semi-relaxed mode of late spring and summer to the steady, purposeful pace of fall to the frenzied and sometimes frothing-at-the-mouth style that will find its way to the team's sideline this winter.

Going into his sixth season at Maryland and his 17th as a Division I head coach, Williams and the Terrapins have re-entered the spotlight after last season's Sweet 16 surprise. It is certainly brighter than it ever has been since Williams, 49, returned to his alma mater. It is, in fact, more intense than at any other time during his career.

"When I went to Boston College in 1982, there were some really good players in the program -- guys like Michael Adams, Jay Murphy and John Garris, who all played in the NBA -- but the attention just wasn't there," Williams said.

"I don't know if it was because I was a new coach, or just that college basketball wasn't as pressurized as it is now. This is different. The thing that's interesting is how quickly it's changed, from where we were two years ago to having such high expectations."

The expectations are not only there for the Terps, but also for Williams. After years of coaching overachievers to heights few thought they could reach, after years of seeing his Maryland teams being picked to finish in the bottom half of the Atlantic Coast Conference, satisfying the masses this season will be a little more difficult for Williams. Or a lot more.

The expectations have been building since Maryland, after fading badly down the stretch in the ACC last season, upset Massachusetts and lost to Michigan in the NCAA tournament.

Evidence comes in the fans who congregate as the Terps scrimmage informally among themselves at Cole Field House. Or in the crowd of more than 10,000 that is expected to show up Friday night, counting down the minutes to Midnight Madness as if they were Times Square revelers on New Year's Eve.

"For me personally, I always try to be as realistic as I can," said Williams. "If you measure your success only by how many games your teams win or lose, especially in a league as competitive as the ACC, you could go crazy. I like to focus on the job I'm doing with that particular team. 'Am I doing a good job teaching?' 'Is the team improving?' That's what's important to me."

Williams said that he has more patience now than when he arrived from Ohio State, when he routinely drop-kicked basketballs at practice, frustrated by talented players who didn't have his work ethic. He learned it during a three-year period when Maryland was shackled by the NCAA sanctions he had inherited, and the level of talent fell off dramatically.

But Williams also realizes that his patience could wear this season as the pressure grows. No longer will playing Duke tough be good enough; this is the season the Terps should finally end their six-year, 15-game losing streak to the Blue Devils. No longer will Maryland fans be happy with finishing in the middle of the pack in the ACC; this is the year the Terps could challenge North Carolina for the top.

"If we start feeling like we don't have to work as hard as last year, we could be in trouble," said Williams, who will get that message across when the team meets for its first practice Saturday.

This season is important to Williams for another reason. If last season's strong finish resurrected his reputation as one of the country's best coaches, the coming season could put him in a position similar to the one his longtime friend, P. J. Carlesimo, found himself in last spring: facing a decision on whether to stay as a college coach or taking the money and running to the NBA.

Williams said he is curious to see how the former Seton Hall coach does in his first year with the Portland Trail Blazers. So are a number of NBA general managers, who have been hesitant to hire college coaches without any pro experience.

Last spring, Williams was on a list of college coaches being considered by Los Angeles Lakers general manager Jerry West, but said it was "nothing serious."

The $1.5 million-per-year contract Carlesimo signed certainly piqued Williams' curiosity, but that's as far as it went. "I'm not worried about the money; I have a good contract," said Williams.

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