At Maryland, 2nd thoughts create worry

One player reneged on his commitment and another recruit's father has concerns about the Terps, raising issues about the direction of the basketball program

May 26, 2006|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

College Park -- On Tuesday it was Jeff Jones, a highly touted basketball recruit from Pennsylvania, who reneged on his decision to commit to Maryland.

Now, the father of key point guard Eric Hayes said he has questions for Maryland coach Gary Williams and has requested to meet with him soon.

Kendall Hayes, who coached his son at Potomac High in Dumfries, Va., said, "I'm going to talk to [Williams] when he comes back [from an overseas trip]. We're going to sit down and talk at some point. Nothing has been mapped out or planned at this point."

Both players could wind up staying with the Terps - and Hayes, who has signed a letter of intent, seems likely to - but the fact that concerns exist about the state of the program suggests there are underlying issues.

Hayes, who was recruited specifically to run Maryland's offense, said he's "not going anywhere."

But his father said, "Like any parent or any basketball coach, I've got questions about what's going on, but that doesn't mean Eric is going someplace besides Maryland.

"I anticipate him having four great years here. He's ready to roll and ready to go there on June 15 for summer school. In terms of Eric wanting to go elsewhere or playing elsewhere, that's untrue."

When Williams returns, he also will be faced with the task of hiring an assistant to replace Rob Moxley, who is now an associate head coach at UNC-Charlotte.

Jones, a 6-foot-4 guard from Drexel Hill, Pa., was recruited by Moxley, and the departure of the former assistant weighed into his decision to renege. He still could opt to play for Maryland.

Moxley did not recruit Hayes, though, and Hayes and Jones are more acquaintances than friends.

In coaching circles, Williams is known for relying heavily on his assistants to recruit, but he is also known to be a closer. Whether he can retain these two recruits could have a significant impact on the program, which is trying to recover from missing the NCAA tournament the past two seasons.

Maryland's other three recruits who have signed letters of intent said yesterday that they intend to honor their commitments. The players are: Jerome Burney, a 6-9 power forward from Westlake High in Atlanta; Landon Milbourne, a small forward at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, and Greivis Vasquez, a guard from Montrose Christian in Rockville.

Dino Gregory of Mount St. Joseph and Braxton Dupree of Calvert Hall, who will be seniors next fall, have not signed letters of intent yet but plan to honor their oral commitments to Maryland, according to coaches.

Recruiting experts had ranked this year's class among the top 20 in the nation. Hayes is a critical addition.

D.J. Strawberry, who will be a senior next season, was moved to point guard last season as a quick fix to replace John Gilchrist. It wasn't his natural position, and Strawberry struggled, splitting time with Parrish Brown and Sterling Ledbetter.

Williams wanted a player who could contribute immediately at point guard.

"It was the focus," Williams said in early November. "We felt we had to get a point because Sterling Ledbetter is a senior, and D.J. is doing well at the point guard position, but we want to be able to use him other places because he can defend so well."

Should Hayes decide to back out of his commitment, Maryland would have to completely release him from his letter of intent or he would have to sit out a year at the next school.

Williams' most recent senior class was criticized for not living up to its hype and because several players got into legal trouble. Also, leading scorer Chris McCray was declared academically ineligible midway through last season.

Asked early this month in an interview with Williams present if she was concerned about where the program is headed, Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow said, "Neither Gary nor I would be satisfied with the last two years.

"That's a given," she said. "He has a tremendous sense of pride in the achievements of the program. I don't think anybody wants to get back to the NCAA more than he does. And we will."

In the same interview, Williams tersely denied that he leaves the bulk of recruiting to his assistants.

"That's not true," he said. "I work very hard at recruiting. We wouldn't win the games we would or else I'm the greatest coach in the world if we don't have any players here. It's one or the other.

"Every coach understands you need players to win games. Well, is Juan Dixon a bad player? First team All-American? Is Chris Wilcox? Because they're not on somebody's list, that doesn't mean I'm a bad recruiter; that might mean I have a pretty good eye for talent. That's the way I look at that."

Williams, who won the national championship in 2002, went to the Sweet 16 in 2003 and won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in 2004, said the past two seasons were an anomaly.

"I look at this year, I might have done my best coaching job," he said. "Name a team in the country that loses their top scorer [McCray] three games into the ACC season and still manages to win their last couple games to get to .500.

"I'm really proud of my record," he said. "I'm proud of what we've done this decade. ... So, if you want to look at the last two years, or look from 2001-2006, and because we've been in the NIT ... we should've been in the NCAA this year. And I don't mind saying it." heather.dinich@baltsun.com

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