What's Gary Williams going to do without disrespect?

Terps get ranking, awards, and it takes away incentive

March 11, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

Wow, look what they've done to poor Gary Williams.

First they moved the Maryland Terrapins up to No. 19 in the Associated Press Top 25.

Then they named Greivis Vasquez first-team All-ACC and put Jordan Williams on the All-Rookie team.

Then they named Vasquez ACC Player of the Year. And to top it all off, they named Williams ACC Coach of the Year at the same time.

Oh, yeah, this is just killing Gary.

Why? Because now he can't play the we-get-no-respect card to motivate the Terps as they head into the ACC tournament.

How can you play the scrappy underdog when you and your team are suddenly getting love from the pollsters and media?

How can you snarl at your players, "Everyone thinks you stink!" and have them run through a wall for you when everyone thinks you're pretty good?

Short answer: You can't.

So, yeah, they really stuck it to Gary this time. They flicked that giant chip off his shoulder, and now the guy doesn't know what to do with himself.

Why, when he met the media Tuesday, just before the team flew to Greensboro, N.C., for the tournament, he actually smiled - twice.

The first time Coach Stoneface cracked, I thought: OK, did I just see that? Maybe my eyes are going.

But then he smiled again a few minutes later and I knew the poor guy had gone around the bend.

I knew all the accolades were too much for him, and that he needed someone to diss his program or say he was a lousy recruiter, so he could go back to being Rodney Dangerfield with his team.

Know what else happens when people start saying nice things about you and your basketball program?

They expect a lot - sometimes too much.

Gary Williams knows this, too. He even has a favorite story about it, which he told the other day.

"When we won the national championship in 2002, we jumped around a little bit," he recalled of the celebration after the final buzzer. "Then we walked across the court and CBS was doing [an interview segment].

"There was a guy six rows up in the Georgia Dome with a 'Fear the Turtle' T-shirt. He said, 'Congratulations,' and I said, 'Thanks.' And then he said, 'How're you gonna be next year?'

"That was all of about three minutes after the game was over."

But people saying nice things about you in 2002 - that's like 100 years ago in big-time college basketball.

Are you kidding? What Williams has is the ultimate what-have-you-done-for-me-lately job.

And what he had for the past few years were critics, lots and lots of critics, sniping about everything from why Maryland was ending up in the lowly National Invitation Tournament instead of the NCAA's Big Dance to why his teams choked in big games to why he couldn't recruit high school blue-chip players.

But, see, this kind of disrespect was something he could revel in. It was something he could wrap his arms around and use as motivation for himself and his players.

They think we stink. We'll show 'em.

But what do you do when you win 23 games and tie for the ACC regular-season title and find yourself in the midst of a seven-game winning streak that might be the most magical and uplifting of your entire career?

What do you do when the fans start saying, "Great job, Coach," and the pollsters come around and the media churns out glowing stories about you?

If you're Gary Williams and you have the classic underdog mentality in your DNA, it's a little hard to take.

At this news conference Tuesday, a reporter told Williams that Vasquez didn't want to deal with all the cell-phone calls and text messages asking whether he had been named ACC Player of the Year, so he left campus that day and spoke to students at a nearby elementary school.

"How about you?" the reporter asked. "Where were you when you found out you were ACC Coach of the Year?"

"I was sitting right by the phone, hoping they'd call," Williams joked. "No, I was in the office. I was watching tape, mostly of us, getting a look at what we have to do in practice."

Now what does he do to get his players up?

Does he say: "They think we're great. Now let's prove it"?

Doesn't have the same ring to it, if you ask me.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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