Above All, A Teacher

January 28, 1995|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- What's most important to Maryland women's basketball coach Chris Weller about her first win, an 86-56 victory over Old Dominion to start the 1975-76 season, is not that the Terps won, but that her players were able to work as a unit for the good of all.

Twenty seasons and 399 victories later, her plan is still the same: Discipline, commitment, and focus toward the team concept.

Anything short of that is unacceptable.

"That's half of winning," said Weller, whose next victory will make her the 18th coach in women's history to win 400 games. "When people get so committed to one another or their group and they're reasonably talented, they do great things."

Over the years, Weller's teams at Maryland have produced a record eight Atlantic Coast Conference championships, three Final Four berths and 10 20-win seasons.

This year's team, which carries a 9-9 record into today's 11:30 a.m. game against North Carolina State at Cole Field House, has yet to blossom into the kind of unit.

But if there has been a watchword that has guided Weller's thinking over the past 20 years, it's cohesiveness. In the Maryland system, no one player is more important to the team than another, and individual stats mean little.

Only two of Weller's players, Vicky Bullett (1988-89) and Kris Kirchner (1979-80), have averaged 20 points or more a game in a season. Only Bullett, Deanna Tate and Jasmina Perazic have been selected Kodak All-Americans. Bullett, a two-time Olympian, is the lone Maryland player to win ACC Player of the Year honors.

It's a formula that has brought success, but also controversy.

After the 1986 season, the high school guidance counselor of a player that had been cut the year before, accused Maryland players of smoking marijuana and shoplifting, charges that were never proven. And Weller was banned from recruiting off-campus for a year in 1985 for allowing Tate to travel with the team while she was enrolled at University College and still technically a recruitable athlete. Weller was unaware that the travel violated NCAA rules, and it is the only NCAA violation in Weller's 20-year tenure.

She has also been criticized for the number of players who have left her program, either transferring or being suspended.

Beth Hunt, an ACC Rookie of the Year in 1986-87, and Edna Campbell, the runner-up that year, each left the program, with Hunt going to South Carolina after one season, and Campbell transferring to Texas after two.

"They wanted it their way," said Christy Winters, who played with Campbell and Hunt. "If Edna made a pass and it got there and someone scored, but it wasn't at the right angle, she got into trouble. With Beth, it was 'I was an All-American last year and the USA Today's best player in the country and she [Weller] is telling me that's not a good pass even though she caught it and scored?' "

Hunt and Campbell could not be reached for comment.

Other players have left over the years. This season, Weller suspended a prize recruit, Demetria Tutt, and a valuable member of the rotation, Kwana Williams, who started 10 games at point guard and was the second-leading scorer. Tutt, a junior college recruit, is no longer enrolled at Maryland. Weller has not said if Williams will return this year.

"It's maybe a sort of weeding-out system; you either hang or you don't," said Chris Vera, who played guard for Maryland in the mid-'80s. "She's got a standard. For the success that she's had, I don't think she'll accept anything less. They either have to get with the program or go to a different one."

Weller won't discuss individual cases, but views transfers as a reflection of the discipline she tries to instill in her players.

"I want them all to do great things and have great experiences and any time that doesn't work out, it's devastating to me," said Weller. "I've also learned that there are times that no matter how hard you want to try, how hard you want to help an individual, if it's detracting from the group, you just can't allow that."

Weller continued: "I always tell them, 'If you've got a problem you can come in and talk to me, but in front of the group you may not, because it's not a democracy in a group setting. It can't be, because we'd be forever trying to make a decision. But if you ever have a problem, come in and we'll talk about it. But I'm not going to coat it over with honey.' "

Weller, the 1992 national coach of the year, earns her peers' respect.

"To me, Chris is Chris, whether she's coaching a Final Four team or a young team that's developing and struggling at different points of the season," said Vanderbilt coach Jim Foster. "She's the same person, and I think too often in our profession, coaches are chameleons. And I like the consistency of who Chris is."

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