It's a shame one of these coaches has to lose

Final Four

March 30, 2002|By MIKE PRESTON

ATLANTA - When Maryland meets Kansas tonight in the NCAA semifinals, it's a matchup of two of the most prominent programs in the country and two of the nation's best coaches.

It's a shame that one of the Williams boys has to lose, too bad that one of the top coaches will be denied an opportunity in the profession's ultimate event, the national championship game.

It's a story of two coaches who share more than the same last name. Gary at Maryland and Roy at Kansas. Seven schools have reached the NCAA tournament round of 16 at least six times in the past nine seasons, and two of them are Maryland and Kansas.

Gary and Roy.

They have won a lot of games, but no national championships.

Someone has to lose.


"I get that question quite a bit," said Roy Williams, in his 14th season at Kansas. "Best coach to never have won a major championship. That doesn't bother me nearly as much as people think, maybe even as people think it should. The biggest plus would be if we did win it, I wouldn't have to answer the question anymore.

"I tell our Kansas people, I have more desire to win a national championship in my little finger than all the Kansas people in the world," he said. "I want to win a national championship as much as I want to breathe. But at the same time, it's not the only thing."

After tonight, one of the Williamses will get a chance to win the title that has eluded both. The other one will go home. There is immense pressure on both coaches, but much more on Roy Williams.

Basketball is a religion in Kansas. In the Baltimore-Washington area, Terps basketball takes a backseat to the Washington Redskins, Ravens and Orioles. In Lawrence, Kan., basketball is life.

The man who invented the game, Dr. James Naismith, coached at Kansas. Adolph Rupp played at Kansas. Dean Smith played at Kansas. So did Wilt Chamberlain and Jo Jo White. The Jayhawks have won two NCAA titles and made 11 Final Four appearances, including this one.

Kansas alumni are looking for another storied moment, and Roy Williams hasn't been able to deliver, even though he has won more games than any other coach at the school except Phog Allen and more games than any other Division I coach in the 1990s.

He can't win the Big One.

He lost to Duke in the 1991 championship game. Before this season, four times his teams have been No. 1 seeds, and four times they failed to reach the Elite Eight. The biggest disappointment came in 1997 when the Jayhawks, led by Jerod Haase and Jacque Vaughn, lost to Arizona in the regional semifinals.

Roy Williams still gets choked up about that team. It was special.

The ending was a disaster.

"I think at Kansas every year there is stress because it comes from the expectations," said Roy Williams. "Sometimes they're not quite as realistic as they should be. I'd rather have the interest, even if that stress and expectation comes with that. At Kansas, our folks think we should always be good. Some of them think we should always be the best. That's not as easy as it appears."

Those close to Roy Williams say he wants to win a national title for much more than himself.

"It's not just for him. He wants to win for every player who has ever played at Kansas, for him and even before that," said Kansas assistant coach Neil Dougherty. "Sure, he wants to win, but he wants to win it for Jacque Vaughn, Jerod Haase. He wants to win it for every kid who came here and won, but didn't get the opportunity to win a national championship."

Gary Williams is in a similar situation. He hasn't won the Big One, either. He hasn't even coached in the Big One.

But like the other Williams, he coached his program through NCAA sanctions in the early years. Maryland has won nearly 300 games under Williams, but the Terps would trade some of those for tournament wins.

Under Williams, the Terps have lost in the Sweet 16 to Michigan in 1994, Connecticut in 1995, Arizona in 1998 and St. John's in 1999. Maybe the most embarrassing losses were a second-round blowout by UCLA in 2000 and first-round exits to Santa Clara in 1996 and the College of Charleston in 1997.

The Connecticut loss started all the second-guessing of Gary Williams.

But that has changed in the past two seasons. Maryland is in its second straight Final Four, and the Terps posted big wins against Kentucky and Connecticut last weekend as Gary Williams beat fellow coaches Tubby Smith and Jim Calhoun, whose teams have won national championships in the past five seasons.

That doesn't erase the bitter disappointments of past seasons.

"Personally, I'd rather breathe, keep breathing," said a smiling Gary Williams, who has been at Maryland since 1989. "But no, I know what Roy means. I want to win the national championship badly, also. But it's one of those things where if you don't win it, I can handle that. I mean, it took me 23 years to get to the Final Four as a head coach. So I keep things in perspective."

Both the Williamses have mellowed over the years. They talk about other things, like spending time with their children and playing golf.

Winning, though, is still important. Both are workaholics. Both can't sleep at night after losses. Both have excellent teams, with Kansas relying on strong rebounding and a fast-paced offense and the Terps relying on strong rebounding and pressure defense.

Maryland has an edge in the backcourt, and Kansas has the advantage in the frontcourt. This game has two featured matchups, guards Kirk Hinrich of Kansas against Maryland's Juan Dixon, and Terps forward Chris Wilcox against the Jayhawks' Drew Gooden.

Then there is Williams against Williams. In one corner is Gary, with 479 career wins, and in the other is Roy with 388.

No national championships. It's a shame one of them has to lose.

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