COLLEGE PARK -- On the wall of the Maryland men's basketball office, hanging near portraits of this year's three senior players, is a new, framed cover of Lindy's magazine ranking the Terrapins ninth among the decade's top programs.
Gary Williams, who is entering his 21st season as Maryland's coach, calls the ranking "vindicating."
But it's more than a magazine cover providing the coach solace these days. In the course of a 45-minute preseason interview Wednesday, Williams used the word "vindicated" several times in describing the team's win over eventual national champion North Carolina in February and later the Terps' advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament - all during a season in which he found his recruiting questioned by fans and the media.
"The players were told basically halfway through the year that they weren't any good because I was criticized for recruiting those specific players," said Williams, still regaining his strength after disc surgery a few weeks ago. "So when those specific players were good enough to beat North Carolina, Wake Forest and California, I felt good for them because that kind of vindicated the fact that they were good basketball players."
It's not just what the Terps did, it's the way they did it - with a guard-oriented lineup that fell back on trapping, pressing and clogging the lane to counter its lack of size. Williams said he needed to use more zone defense than he was accustomed to.
"What we can do this year - which we couldn't do last year - is put [freshman] Jordan Williams into the game at 6-9, and then we're as big as anybody we play against," Williams said.
The coach said it's likely that junior Dino Gregory (Mount St. Joseph) would start at the forward spot vacated by the graduated Dave Neal, and that Jordan Williams and fellow freshman James Padgett would come off the bench.
Gary Williams said he wouldn't hesitate to use a three-guard lineup again.
"What people overlook sometimes is that if we play three guards, our three guards might be [Greivis] Vasquez at 6-6, Cliff Tucker at 6-4 1/2 and Sean Mosley, who is only about 6-3 1/2 but he's like 220," Williams said. "He'd be a tight end if he played football. People forget how big these guys are."
The coach said his guards have worked on their outside shots and can perform better than last season. Among those he cites is junior Adrian Bowie, who was 13-for-58 on three-point attempts (22.4 percent) last season. "I think he's going to be a really good shooter," Williams said.
Bowie said he has added more arc to his shot because too many balls hit the front rim. "I tried to work on it a lot during the offseason," he said.
Maryland competes with a small basketball budget relative to the Dukes and North Carolinas that the Terps oppose each season in the Atlantic Coast Conference. As in other sports, basketball budgets are being trimmed at Maryland and other schools because of the rough economy.
Budget cuts compelled Maryland to scale back its "Maryland Madness" on Friday night kicking off preseason practices. Instead of stepping out of an armored vehicle or hopping off a motorcycle as he had in the past, Williams made his entrance to the Comcast Center floor on foot.
"The state has budget cuts, and we have budget cuts at the university. I understand that. [Maryland Madness] is still a great chance for a lot of kids and a lot of fans that don't get to go a lot of times because of the price of tickets," Williams said.
The Baltimore Sun reported in August that men's basketball, which has a $4.4 million budget, was trimmed $137,786, or about 3.1 percent. School officials said at the time that additional athletic budget cuts might be needed later. Calls on Wednesday were referred to Randy Eaton, a senior associate athletics director for finances, who could not be reached for comment.
It is still being determined how the cuts might affect men's basketball, Williams said. The football team is traveling by bus to and from Duke this weekend instead of by plane to save money.
Said Williams: "I have my money, and now it's up to me to make sure we spend it the right way so that people perceive us as one of the really good programs. "
He said the ACC's four North Carolina schools have a travel advantage. "Say North Carolina plays Wake Forest, N.C. State and Duke. There are three road games where they sleep in their own bed, eat their own food, don't pay any money for travel. We don't have that luxury here," Williams said.
Maryland opens the season at home with an exhibition against Indiana University of Pennsylvania on Nov. 3, before hosting Charleston Southern on Nov. 13.
The Terps open ACC play with a home game against Florida State on Jan. 10.
Last season, Williams was criticized by fans when it seemed the Terps would miss the NCAA tournament. He sparred in the media with his athletic department over two recruits who ended up at other schools.
Then Maryland beat North Carolina in overtime Feb. 21.
"That was vindicating," Williams said. "Carolina was a great team. In my 21 years coaching [Maryland], I hadn't seen many teams with the talent at each position that Carolina had."
Note: : Maryland will play an intrasquad scrimmage at Comcast Center at 1 p.m. Saturday that will be open to the public.
With the addition of power forwards Jordan Williams and James Padgett, Maryland coach Gary Williams has more frontcourt players at his disposal.
The coach said the two freshmen are adapting well to playing against college competition in practices that began Saturday.
"What I know so far is they're not afraid," the coach said.
The Terps return four starters. Williams indicated Wednesday that junior Dino Gregory (Mount St. Joseph) had likely earned the fifth spot.
Asked whether Gregory is the anticipated starter, Williams replied: "Yeah, because by the end of the year he was one of the better inside players in the ACC."
- Jeff Barker