Now, UM's Williams looking better

March 30, 2009|By DAVID STEELE

The last two months of the Maryland men's basketball season were highlighted by the Terps' 180-degree turn toward an eventual NCAA tournament berth - and dragged down by the nasty feuding between the factions that wanted Gary Williams to stay and the ones that wanted him to go.

As it turns out, the events of last week have further vindicated at least a few of the pro-Gary arguments. Mainly, those that compared what has happened lately in College Park to what has gone on in other programs, shining a better light on what Williams has done.

These three themes, in no particular order, regularly pop up in blogs, message boards, e-mails and talk-show calls in Williams' defense: Duke and Mike Krzyzewski have not won a championship as recently as Maryland has. Connecticut and Jim Calhoun have not run a clean program the way Williams has. And Kentucky is paying for having run off a coach who had won a national title.

On consecutive days last week - bull's-eye on all three.

* A report on on Wednesday laid out several allegations of rules violations by Connecticut, including a recruit accepting benefits from an agent, who happened to be a former team manager, and improper phone calls. These are hardly minor violations, and Connecticut's responses, including from Calhoun himself - something about the NCAA rule book being really long - have been amazingly clumsy.

This makes for entertaining reading (and comment fodder) for the Terps faithful who have had it in for Calhoun ever since he lured Rudy Gay away in 2004, not long after paying his Amateur Athletic Union team a reported $22,000 for an exhibition game. Such deals have since been outlawed.

* On Thursday, Duke got waxed by Villanova in its regional semifinal. That makes it one Final Four for Duke since the 2001 title, although they did get to the second weekend for the first time in three years. All sporting hatred of Duke and Coach K aside, their dirty little secret in recent years has been subpar recruiting. Krzyzewski acknowledged after the game that Villanova was far more talented than his higher-seeded team.

Lately, the Duke players' high school reputations have far outstripped their actual college results. Only when judged by those inflated expectations can they be labeled underachievers. Krzyzewski simply wrings more out of a mediocre roster than most coaches could. Sounds like someone we know.

* On Friday, Kentucky dumped Billy Gillispie after just two years as coach. In hindsight, Tubby Smith's 10-year reign looks much better. Of course, Kentucky has many more banners hanging than Maryland's one, but that only means that what Williams is going through now, Smith and plenty of his predecessors already have.

Smith was never forgiven for winning "only" one championship. He jumped before he could be pushed, so it could be said he just left for another opportunity - much the way Gillispie's exit could be pinned on not being "the right fit." Both sound better than "only championships matter here."

Add all that to the on-court turnaround, and Williams and his backers couldn't have asked for two better months.

Listen to David Steele on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and on Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).

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