Williams' comfort level may preclude NBA

February 06, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

COLLEGE PARK -- Gary Williams might have been interested if the Bullets' job had opened last summer -- real interested.

Maryland was coming off a disappointing season. Williams was drawing criticism for his recruiting. The NBA probably never looked so good.

So much has changed since then. The Terps are 18-4 after last night's 66-55 victory after North Carolina State. Williams' star is again on the rise.

But guess what?

He's happy right where he is.

Bullets general manager Wes Unseld said the team would not hire a college coach to replace Jim Lynam, so for now, the issue is on the back burner.

Still, if the Terps stay this hot, Williams could wind up the national Coach of the Year and draw NBA interest after the season.

The Philadelphia 76ers spoke with him last summer before hiring Johnny Davis. And Williams, 52, is a far more attractive candidate now.

The NBA offers money, prestige, the chance to coach at the highest level. But Williams, in his eighth year at Maryland, finally has the program where he wants it.

To leave after this season and risk everything why bother?

"You never say never," Williams said. "But I look at Jim Lynam. That guy, he's a proven coach, and 2 1/2 years later, he's not there anymore. Coaching is a really strange profession now. The focus of the media every night, it's big news."

The same is true at Maryland, but how much criticism is Williams going to face in the near future? The team is winning. The recruits are coming. The program is running at full throttle.

"We've got some people here now who will make us a good team for the next two or three years," Williams said. "I'm excited about that.

"Obviously with this season, we'll take this run as far as we can, see how good we can be. But once that's over, it's still going to be very exciting.

"You never want to lose a player like Keith Booth. You wish he could stay eight years. But it's nice to know when Keith Booth leaves, you're still going to have a good basketball team."

Good? The Terps are ranked No. 7, and next season they might be even better. Four starters return, and three will be juniors. Depth won't be a problem -- as many as five freshmen could contribute.

Terence Morris and Juan Dixon are top recruits. Mike Mardesich and Laron Cephas will be in their first year of eligibility. And Mark Karcher, who attended last night's game, still could wind up in College Park.

"I think he feels good about where he is now, the recruits he has signed, the possibility of Karcher," said Loyola athletic director Joe Boylan, a longtime friend of Williams'.

"Very few people know how bad the program was when he got there. He's been through a hell of a lot. I'm not sure some of the people at Maryland really appreciate what he's done.

"Right now, he's excited about this year, next year and the years beyond. They've got depth -- if a superstar leaves, they can survive. I think he feels very, very comfortable where he is right now."

That said, the NBA is the NBA.

Williams' act might not work at that level -- if he couldn't reach Exree Hipp, how could he reach Chris Webber? Plus, he'd need to curb his sideline intensity to survive 82 games.

Then again, if the Bullets weren't so desperate to hire a coach who could get them into the playoffs this season, they might find Williams intriguing.

His teams play hard. His teams play strong defense. And with the Bullets moving into the new MCI Center next season, Williams could help sell tickets. He's a big local name.

Presumably, the Bullets want a disciplinarian to push their young stars, and Williams certainly fits that profile. But Unseld is in no position to take chances. He needs a proven NBA winner or a top assistant, and he needs him by next week.

It's a typically ridiculous predicament for this star-crossed franchise, but what were Unseld and owner Abe Pollin supposed to do after the back-to-back horrors in Los Angeles and Utah, wait for the Bullets to get blown out by 50 points?

This is a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs in a decade, hasn't won a playoff series in 15 years. Seeing as how Pollin has committed $160 million to Webber and Juwan Howard, a 22-24 record just didn't cut it.

As for Williams, he's better off at Maryland; better off with his seven-year contract; better off never having to ask Webber to play center, heaven forbid.

"I've never been one of those guys that has been courted by the NBA," Williams said. "To be honest with you, who has gone from college?

"Larry Brown won a national championship at Kansas, went to the final game with UCLA. P.J. Carlesimo went to a Final Four with Seton Hall. [John] Calipari got to a Final Four with UMass.

"I've never been to a Final Four. They're the guys that have gotten the jobs. I've never thought of myself at that level."

That might change before this season is over, but Williams can worry about it then.

"I've known him for 30 years," Boylan said. "Right now, he's as comfortable as he's ever been."

Pub Date: 2/06/97

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