Yell less, teach more

Terps: For Gary Williams, an inexperienced team may mean success is largely measured in lessons learned by his young players.

College Basketball 2003 : Maryland

Sunset Season

November 21, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Slow things down. Keep them simple. Resist the urge to chew out a player who moves to the wrong spot on the floor or throws the ball away or fails to box out properly. Be a teacher first.

Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams, an admittedly impatient person, reminds himself of such guidelines as he envisions a unique season.

Williams, 58, has led youthful teams before, but never a team as inexperienced as his latest collection. The 2003-04 Terrapins feature five freshmen and six other players who have not played for more than a year at the Division I level. Only one, sophomore forward Nik Caner-Medley, is considered a returning starter.

For Williams, the challenge goes beyond getting the Terps into their 11th consecutive NCAA tournament or coaxing an eighth straight 20-victory season out of them or turning them into contenders again in the unforgiving Atlantic Coast Conference.

This season is about starting from scratch with players in search of their roles and a team in search of an identity. It's about installing an offense and a defense and surrendering to the notion that, with so much young talent, players often are not going to get it right the first or second time. It's about making the practice court, always a cherished place for Williams, more treasured than ever. It's about balancing demands with reality.

"These guys don't need motivating. They need teaching. When you have a young team, you can't go too fast," Williams said. "I know my personality. I want to get things done right and get them done fast. I know I'm going to look at my watch some days and realize time is up and we haven't gotten to some things we needed to get to.

"You know you're going to have to explain things a lot more. Now, when a guy throws a ball out of bounds, you don't react right away. You hold back a little bit. What you ask yourself with a young team is: Are they trying? If a player is trying and he's not getting it, maybe you have to do a better job of teaching."

What a contrast to recent years, when the Terps were seasoned and senior-led, when veterans such as Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter and Steve Blake knew the Williams playbook inside out, became coaches on the court and carried Maryland to back-to-back Final Fours and an NCAA crown.

This isn't the first time Williams has started over at Maryland. His 1999-2000 team featured Dixon and Baxter as sophomores and a freshman point guard in Blake. That team came on strong after an 0-3 start in the ACC to finish second and won 25 games before losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Six years earlier, the 1993-94 team, led by freshmen Joe Smith and Keith Booth and sophomores Duane Simpkins and Johnny Rhodes, put the Terps back on the national map. Maryland opened by upsetting Georgetown, went 18-12 and reached the Sweet 16. That started a run of NCAA tournament trips that has yet to be interrupted.

Dixon, now a guard for the Washington Wizards, said Williams used repetition and simplicity as his main tools with that 1999-2000 team. He drummed a short list of offensive plays into the players' heads, for example, electing to avoid too many variations. Those blossomed later, as the Terps matured.

"Coach Williams' game plan was pretty shallow. He didn't want to throw a lot of plays at the young guys. He was patient putting in sets," Dixon said. "He didn't scream all of the time at the young guys. He took everything in and allowed us to make mistakes. He allowed us to grow."

"As you get older, he lets you have more freedom because you understand the offense more," added Blake, who is Dixon's teammate in Washington. "When we were younger, we spent a lot more time in practice executing plays correctly, making the right cuts. Coach Williams knew how to adjust to us."

Don't expect Williams to alter his traditional game-day temperament. Don't expect him to be anything but the same animated, edgy bench presence, a coach who prowls the sideline while working officials as hard as he yells - instructively or out of frustration - at his players on the floor and at those seated behind him.

Williams, entering his 15th year at Maryland and 26th overall as a college coach, said he has learned to calibrate his emotional pitch in practice more deftly over the years. He has come a long way since, for example, 1993, when the Terps were turning the competitive corner after suffering through NCAA sanctions.

"When I was young, I was crazy," Williams said.

Back in those days, Williams was known to punt many a basketball into the stands at Cole Field House after witnessing one mistake too many. It wasn't unusual for him to throw one or more players out of practice, only to send in a manager to the locker room to bring them back. Film sessions sometimes ended prematurely with smashed videocassette tapes.

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