A huge fan and loyal friend

Bisciotti a booster of Williams, Terps

March 12, 2009|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,jeff.barker@baltsun.com

ATLANTA -Steve Bisciotti is talking Maryland basketball. He's offering a statistical argument for why the Terrapins under coach Gary Williams should be considered the third-best Atlantic Coast Conference team behind North Carolina and Duke the past 10 years.

The way he talks - passionately, his voice rising - it's clear that Bisciotti, besides owning the Ravens, is about as devout a Terps fan as there is.

But it's more than that. Bisciotti, who planned to watch the Terps in the ACC tournament here tonight, has also become a confidant and important ally of Williams.

"We're best of friends," Bisciotti said. "We vacation together; he's at my house at Christmas."

Bisciotti said his connection to the school - he has donated more than $1 million even though he attended what was then Salisbury State - won't be the same after Williams retires.

"I won't be flying home from Florida on a Tuesday for a game. I do that to support my friend," said Bisciotti, who holds four courtside seats at Comcast Center.

Williams, who knows how quickly fans can turn on coaches, uses the word loyalty when asked about Bisciotti.

"In coaching, it feels good to have loyalty around you. And Steve's been very loyal to me," Williams said. "We hit it off. We're both sports fans. We like to play golf. We like a lot of the same things, and that's where our friendship developed."

In this most trying of seasons for Williams, Bisciotti has freely dispensed advice. The advice is protective - like a big brother would give - even though Bisciotti, who turns 49 next month, is 15 years younger.

When Williams was criticized this season for missing out on high-profile recruits, Bisciotti told him: "You won with Lonny Baxters and Juan Dixons, so don't kill yourself with the criticism that you're not getting Carmelo Anthony and Michael Beasley."

When Williams was attacked several years ago for low player graduation rates, Bisciotti told him: "Your legacy is cemented. You gave the team its first Final Four and followed with a national championship, and now you're being criticized for a low graduation rate?"

Williams has said the graduation rate was low largely because so many Terps left school to play basketball overseas or in the NBA.

Bisciotti and Williams share an intensity and a sense that their success was earned, not given. Williams has often noted that his coaching career began not at a college but as a high school assistant in New Jersey. Bisciotti founded a technical services and recruiting company when he was 23. Both take losing hard.

"He has the same feelings that I do a lot of the time," Williams said. "So when I say something, I don't have to go into great detail to explain what I'm talking about. He goes through the same thing as I go through."

Bisciotti said he met Williams in the 1990s when Maryland arranged a golf outing. Bisciotti was among the first wave of fans to secure courtside seats to see the Terps, and the school was eager to treat him well.

Said Williams: "That was back at a time when the [courtside] demand wasn't necessarily there and people stepped up and got that started. We were one of the first schools in the country to really do that at the college level, and Steve jumped."

Bisciotti is among Maryland's most visible fans. He claps and pumps his fist and chats with friends. Fans strain to see whether Bisciotti has brought a celebrity. He recently attended a game with Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who signed autographs for students.

Bisciotti said he was disturbed when Williams' record - Maryland has missed the NCAA tournament three out of four seasons - and recruiting were criticized this season by fans and in the news media.

"I know Gary personally and it bothers me," Bisciotti said. He said Williams occasionally misses out on recruits because the coach is unwilling to engage with recruits' handlers or hangers-on. He said he has advised Williams to be as thick-skinned as ex-college basketball coach Bob Knight, who once said his critics "can kiss my ass."

"Gary came in to save a program and basically made it the third-best team in the ACC," Bisciotti said. "If he's being criticized when his down years are 7-9 and 8-8, I just don't know how to answer that question. I could understand if Gary had crashed at 3-13 or 4-12."

Bisciotti declined to weigh in on the relationship between Williams and athletic director Deborah Yow, who have clashed in the past. But it is clear where his loyalties lie.

"My commitment to [the Terrapins] came through my friendship with Gary Williams," he said.

ACC 1ST ROUND

MARYLAND (18-12) VS. N.C. STATE (16-13)

Tonight, 7

TV: ESPN2

Radio: 1300 AM, 105.7 FM

Line: Terps

by 1 1/2

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