Williams, Calhoun trade some shots

College basketball: Rudy Gay's decision to choose Connecticut over Maryland has touched off some sparring between two respected coaches.

College Basketball

November 26, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The recruiting battle between Maryland and Connecticut for Archbishop Spalding basketball star Rudy Gay was won last month by the Huskies, but the reverberations and accusations over how the decision was made are still swirling from College Park to Storrs and back to Baltimore.

Last week, after an exhibition loss to an NBA minor league team at Comcast Center, Terps coach Gary Williams made an off-the-cuff remark seemingly pointed at Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun.

"We could have scheduled an AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] team and given them $25,000 like some schools I know," said Williams.

Calhoun had scheduled an exhibition for his top-ranked Huskies against the Beltway Ballers, a team composed of players once coached by Anthony Lewis, the director of the Cecil-Kirk Recreation Center in Baltimore and Gay's AAU coach.

The Beltway Ballers were made up of ex-college players with local ties, including former Lake Clifton and Miami star Kevin Norris, who coached the team and played in the game the Huskies won, 102-44, on Nov. 13 in Hartford.

When made aware of Williams' remark earlier this week, Calhoun told The Hartford Courant: "I like Gary. But I just think that he is taking this a step beyond. We all lose players. I was disappointed that Gary felt he needed to say something."

Neither Calhoun nor Lewis would comment on how much the team, which is funded by a nonprofit organization in Baltimore, was paid for its trip to Hartford, but CBS.SportsLine.com reported the figure was about $25,000.

"That's not my team," Lewis said. "There are some of my ex-players that play different scrimmages. It's not my teams. They're playing all over."

NCAA rules allow payment to exhibition opponents.

Calhoun told the Courant he set up the game with Lewis. "Tony Lewis didn't ask me to play a game, nor did he ask Gary," Calhoun said. "It was me that initiated that. I've had nine of his players. I thought it would be a great idea to play the game."

The relationship between Calhoun and Lewis dates back more than 20 years to when Calhoun was coaching at Northeastern University in Boston and recruited several Baltimore-area players who were associated with Lewis, including the late Reggie Lewis (no relation).

Calhoun and Williams have been coaching nearly as long, since Williams was at Boston College in the mid-1980s.

Their current teams have squared off twice in the NCAA tournament, with the Huskies winning in the Sweet 16 of the 1995 West Regional and the Terrapins winning in the Elite Eight of the 2002 East Regional en route to their first national championship.

"I respect Gary, I like Gary," Calhoun told the Courant. "I'm not telling Gary what to do, but you win some in recruiting and you lose some, and usually it's because the other guy did a better job or the kid wanted to go away."

In a telephone interview Monday from his office at Cecil- Kirk, Lewis vehemently denied the exhibition game was a payback for Gay's signing.

"That should not be equated to the reason why Rudy selected the school," said Lewis.

More playing time

Lewis said it had to do with what Gay believed was an opportunity for more playing time. Lewis also praised the Maryland program and said Gay and his family "anguished very dearly" over his decision.

"The sole reason that Rudy selected UConn over Maryland was the fact that Maryland had nine underclassmen," said Lewis. "They had five freshmen and four sophomores. They have one of those underclassmen in the person of Nik Caner-Medley, who was playing in his [Gay's] position. OK?"

Conversely, Lewis said, Gay believed the Huskies had fewer frontcourt players capable of playing both forward positions. One of Gay's former AAU teammates, freshman Josh Boone (South Carroll), is starting for the Huskies because highly touted freshman Charlie Villanueva has yet to be cleared by the NCAA over expenses to some NBA tryouts last spring.

Though Gay went from being considered one of the top 100 high school prospects in the country to a consensus top 10 player after his performance in last summer's Nike camp in Indianapolis, Lewis said Gay didn't want to be in competition with Caner-Medley.

"If the predictions hold true to form, and this is the coach's predictions, he could possibly be Maryland's MVP for this year," Lewis said of Caner-Medley. "That's the situation, as opposed to going into a situation [at Connecticut] where you lose four upperclassmen, through graduation or through the league [going to the NBA].

"Now this kid [Gay] has an opportunity to step in and make an immediate impact and play or challenge a young man who may not have gotten as many minutes. So that's the sole reason Rudy Gay selected UConn over Maryland. Given that scenario, any high school senior - young, black, white, high major, mid-major, small major, it doesn't matter - those kids would pick the same school 90 percent of the time, because kids want to play."

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