Ten years after the championship: Q&A with Gary Williams

Former Maryland coach reflects on the '02 title team, talks about where it fit into history, and discusses the Terps' chances of winning another national championship

March 31, 2012|By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

Gary Williams spent this college basketball season out of coaching for the first time in more than four decades. A fundraiser for the university and an analyst for the Big Ten Network and ESPN 980 in Rockville, Williams was honored Wednesday night at the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards ahead of the 10th anniversary of Maryland's national championship. The 67-year old sat down with The Baltimore Sun prior to the "An Evening With Gary Williams" celebration to discuss the anniversary.

Baltimore Sun: Looking back at the championship season, was there a game prior to the tournament that gave you an indication that the team was capable of winning it all?

Gary Williams: The only [ACC] loss we had was at Duke, and we came back and played them at Cole Field House and really did a good job that day of taking away [Mike] Dunleavy and Jason Williams. I knew if we could do that against them, even though it was at our place, that we had a chance against anybody we had to play in the NCAA tournament.

When you look back at the Final Four, do you think the semifinal against Kansas was more like a champonship game, given the talent the two teams had, and how hard was it to come back after that high level game to play for the national championship?

To get to the Kansas game we had to beat Kentucky, who had Tayshaun Prince and Connecticut with three pro players, so that was a tough regional. The Kansas game was a great game because it was a game the fans liked, it was an offensive game, both teams shot the ball very well. It could have affected the championship game. I was proud of us in the championship game because we played great defense. When you hold a team to 52 points in the championship game for the NCAA title, you're a pretty good basketball team.

Jimmy Patsos has told a story about you writing on the whiteboard in the team's dressing room after losing to UCLA by 35 in the 2000 tournament "We'll be back next year" or something to that regard. Was that a way to get the team refocused after such a bad loss, or did you really feel and want to put in their minds that they would be back playing for a national championship?

Well, we weren't ready to beat a good team that year. We had a couple of injuries going into the game; Danny Miller had been hurt the game before. We played against a good UCLA team. They shot it well, we couldn't shoot and you lose. You go home, and good teams handle that well. Good teams use that as motivation for the following year. Whether it's guys getting in the weight room or putting a lot of time working on their shots or playing pickup and really getting comfortable playing with the other guys, all those things are what good players and good teams do in the offseason. Those group of guys were always willing to put the extra time in. I thought that was the key to our success at that time.

When you look at the great college teams of today, how do you think the 2002 Terps would stack up? Guys like Chris Wilcox and Juan Dixon had enough athleticism, and because of the toughness and the way you played defense, would you be able to compete on that stage with that kind of talent today?

Sure, we had four NBA players. You very rarely see a team like that. A guy like Byron Mouton was an exceptional addition to our team, because he could guard anybody. He was a tough guy who kept people off of [Steve] Blake and Dixon. We had probably the biggest team in the NCAA that year with Tahj Holden, who was 6-10, 260, Ryan Randle who was 6-7, 250, coming off the bench in addition to a great shooter like Drew Nicholas, who was probably as good a shooter as I've ever coached at Maryland, plus a Mike Grinnon who was also great in practice because he could shoot it also. And a guy like Calvin McCall who was a great leader even though he didn't play a lot of minutes that year."

Do any of this year's Final Four teams remind you of the Terps in terms of personnel, and do any players remind you of a Juan Dixon?

This year's Final Four has a lot of talent, no doubt about that. The thing that you see at the Final Four is that they're all programs that have earned their way there. They've been there before, the coaches have been there before. It's really a good Final Four. As far as someone who reminds me of Juan Dixon, there's nobody that jumps out at me because Juan was special. He was a very deceiving basketball player in terms of his strength, because he looked thin. He was very strong, very physical when he played. I don't think there's a guard who can streak that many points together when he had to. He was one of the great streak scorers that I ever coached.

Speaking of Juan, do you think NBA coaches and general managers stereotyped him as a shooting guard in a point guard's body and never really utitiized his ability to score as best they could?

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