On No. 1 Roll

July 11, 1995|By BILL TANTON

COLLEGE PARK -- Gary Williams' basketball camp for kids has been a great success this summer, thank you.

That's the way it goes when your University of Maryland team has joined the nation's elite and your star player -- Joe Smith -- has just been picked No. 1 in the NBA draft.

"It helps everything when you're going good," the serious-minded Wil liams was saying in his office in Cole Field House yesterday. "It helps recruiting, camps, fund-raising, alumni support. Everything.

"We open against Kentucky at the Hall of Fame in Springfield on national TV Nov. 24. We play UCLA on national TV. The alumni is excited about all that."

What parent wouldn't want his basketball-struck son to attend Gary Williams' camp?

The coach's stock has never been so high as it is now after a 26-8 season (second-highest win total in school history), two trips to the NCAA Sweet 16 and Smith's becoming the first player taken in the draft.

Smith, who will turn 20 late this month, stands to earn untold millions at Golden State, the ceiling depending on what happens in the NBA's unsettled labor situation.

Producing NBA players is nothing new to Williams, who has been a college head coach for 17 years -- the last six at his alma mater, Maryland.

He sent Michael Adams and Dana Barros from Boston College to the pros. At Ohio State he had Dennis Hopson, who became the No. 3 pick in the NBA draft.

Gary recruited Jim Jackson at Ohio State but moved on to Maryland before getting to coach him.

At Maryland, he has coached Tony Massenburg, who has moved from the Los Angeles Clippers to the expansion Toronto Raptors, and he had Walt Williams, the No. 7 pick in the '92 draft. He's at Sacramento.

"Walt's in good shape," Gary says earnestly. "He should have a great year. He may be an All-Star."

But developing Joe Smith into the top guy in the country -- and doing it in a mere two seasons -- is Gary Williams' crowning achievement.

Smith was relatively unheralded when he arrived at Maryland in the fall of '93. Dunbar High's Keith Booth was supposed to be the star of that recruiting class.

"Nobody knew Joe was going to become Joe Smith," Williams confesses.

Gary had an inkling, though. In the press guide for Smith's freshman year the bio says: "Because of his size [6-10] and talent he might ultimately have the most impact of any of the newcomers." The coach was, of course, the source for that prescient statement.

"The first thing we had to do with Joe," the coach says, "was make him understand he was good enough to do all these things.

"The first year he was national Freshman of the Year. The second year he was Player of the Year. It's hard to believe Joe has already come and gone. I've had other players go to the NBA, but this is the first time I've had the first pick."

The college coach who has had the most players chosen among

the first three NBA lottery picks is Duke's Mike Krzyzewski with three. Williams has now had two, Joe Smith and Dennis Hopson, tying Gary for second with John Thompson, Dale Brown, Jerry Tarkanian, Dean Smith and Jim Boeheim.

Maryland is one of only eight schools that have ever had two No. 1 picks. The other Terp to achieve that was John Lucas in 1976.

What about Keith Booth, who was relaxing in the basketball office yesterday with Johnny Rhodes? Will Booth become a pro?

"He's got a chance," Williams said. "Keith needs to shoot the ball better. He has everything else.

"The way you improve your shooting is to shoot. Go in the gym by yourself and shoot. Work on your fundamentals and techniques. Keith is working hard on that this summer."

Booth is one of several Maryland players who will have to take "an expanded role" if the Smith-less Terps are to be successful next winter.

"We have four starters coming back," Williams said, "and we expect this team to grow. We'll miss Joe's size and rebounding most of all."

The best prospect among the big men coming in is 6-9 Obinna Ekezie, from Nigeria and Worcester Academy. No one can tell at this point how good he'll be in the ACC.

"Everybody in the conference lost somebody," Williams said. "Eight first-round picks came out of the ACC this year."

Will Maryland play a game in Baltimore this season?

"We're working on it," Williams said. "It's still up in the air as to which opponent we'll bring in.

"We've played UMass, Towson State and Oklahoma in Baltimore the last three years. I'd like to play a game there every year."

That should be policy. Even for Towson State, Maryland sold out the Arena.

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