Friday, May 6, 2011

Gary Club

I am Gary’s bulging vein.

Few coached basketball like Gary Williams. Every coach gets angry and flashes histrionics. They huff and puff, scream their heads off, put their hands on their head in disbelief and throw chairs (Bobby Knight). But if you ever studied Gary on the sideline over the course of a full game, you would know none of these men knew angry like Gary Williams knew angry. The greatest thing about watching Gary get angry was to see where he directed that anger. If a guy threw the ball away or missed a defensive rotation, he would not draw Gary’s ire. Instead, Gary would wheel around towards his bench, find the 9th or 10th man, his face would turn red, his finger would start waving like Lewis Black’s and he would launch into a very loud lecture on protecting the ball. Then without hesitation he’d return his focus to the court to call out the next defensive set.

I am Gary’s thirst of the unknown.

Gary Williams was one of the best ever at finding diamonds in the rough, polishing turds and putting lipstick on pigs. Gary’s crowning achievement, which may have gotten him into Springfield, was obviously the 2002 National Championship team (the team also went to the Final Four, its first in school history, the year before). That team featured no McDonald’s High School All Americans. They were led by senior and ACC Player of the Year Juan Dixon. Dixon was from nearby Baltimore. Both of his parents were heroin addicts and both passed away while Dixon was in high school. Despite his immense talent, at 6’1’’ and 145 pounds, Dixon was not heavily recruited but Gary saw something in him.

His mind harkened back to another diminutive shooter he once coached at Boston College in the early ‘80s named Michael Adams. The 5’10’’ Adams went on to play 11 pro seasons. "Michael taught me to never measure a player by how big he is," Williams told SI. "In Juan, I saw a great shooter who was motivated by people telling him what he couldn’t do.”

That diminutive shooter went on to set the career scoring record (among other records) at Maryland, have his jersey retired, receive a plethora of awards and get drafted in the first round by the hometown Washington Wizards. He was the prettiest pig Gary ever made up.

I am Gary’s apocrine sweat glands.

If Gary Williams was known for one thing nationally besides being a really good basketball coach, it was his epic ability to sweat. If Al Pacino and Kevin Garnett had a baby, that baby’s entire body would still not sweat as much as Gary’s left armpit. The story was always the same whether it was a blow out or a nail biter. Gary would come to the floor in his dark colored suit, white shirt and red tie, dry as a desert. After pre-game warm-ups, he would call his team to the bench and deliver his fiery reminders for the game. The first bead of sweat would appear. The opening tip would go up and the teams would go back and forth for a few minutes until the first official time out and we’d get our first signs of saturation. Through his suit jacket. Typically, by about halfway through the first half after frantically pacing up and down the sidelines and offering gentle words of wisdom to his bench, the jacket would come off. We were then exposed to a full on Wet Button Down Shirt Contest. It was every bit as glorious as it sounds.

I am Gary’s unwavering approach.

For all the years I attended Maryland and all the years before and  since, Gary Williams has run the same offense and the same defense. Watch any nationally broadcast Maryland game and no doubt the color guy will point out Gary’s “Flex” offense. It is as stable and predictable as the Princeton back door offense, but for 30 plus years Gary’s teams have made it work. It can be frustrating to watch especially when some of the lesser coordinated big men were handling the ball at the top of the key, but his record tells the story. The more impressive part of his coaching repertoire was undoubtedly his full court press. It didn’t matter if they were playing Coastal Carolina or North Carolina, Gary’s full court traps could make any team look foolish. With his incredible ability to coach up his players, they all seemed to have the ability to goad teams into bringing the ball into the corners in the backcourt, forcing a trap and usually a dumb pass that would lead to an easy two. Nothing got the Maryland crowd fired up like seeing a successful full court trap (except for some Gary Glitter).

I am Gary’s fatal flaw.

"Satisfaction in your job to me isn't just getting some list and saying, 'OK, that guy is rated top in the country. OK, we have to recruit him to be a good coaching staff.' That's the biggest bull I've ever heard. Most of those top 10 guys get cheated on anyway. Why do that? Why not be a coach instead of a used car salesman." Gary Williams

In a conference that features power houses Duke and UNC (not to mention great campuses like Miami, Clemson, NC State, Wake Forest and Florida State), talent is usually king. Though the ACC has seen a drop off the last couple years, it is still a top draw for the top high school talent in the country. Except for Maryland. As I mentioned before, on the 2002 title team, there were no McDonald’s All Americans. In the past decade alone, Gary has whiffed on elite local talent including Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant. According to a Washington Post article from 2009, Gary has decided to not play the recruitment game perfected by Coach K, Coach Calipari, Coach Pitino or Coach Calhoun that involves buddying up with local AAU coaches to get them to influence their top players. Things changed slightly after the title raised the school’s cache and in consecutive years got MAAs Travis Garrison and Mike Jones. Mike Jones was rated as the second best shooting guard in the country behind some guy named Lebron James, so with James going directly to the NBA we essentially got the top available guy. Jones became Gary’s biggest whipping boy for the next four years, alternating between deadly marksman and clueless child, sometimes on the same possession. It was almost as if Gary could not get along with the elite guys, instead needing fierce competitors in his own image who were willing to give their life for every loose ball.

Quick anecdote. In my sophomore year, Gary brought in a 7’1’’ monster named Will Bowers. As exciting as it was to get a real 7 footer, Bowers clearly had a deficiency in the skills department. But it was no matter for us, because the secret behind Bowers was that he played high school ball alongside one of the best players in the country, high school senior Rudy Gay, and they were local boys. Rumor had it that getting Bowers was the big key to getting Rudy Gay so we all accepted his slow feet, brick hands and shiny white body. The next year Rudy Gay chose UConn over Maryland under suspicion of recruiting violations by Coach Calhoun and Gay’s AAU coach.

I am Gary’s flickering flame.

Yesterday, May 5, 2011, Gary Williams announced his retirement from college basketball. In typical Gary fashion, the announcement came unceremoniously. No farewell tour or grand announcement. He did not even go out on a high note as the team finished 19-14 this season and even missed the NIT. He was just done. 

Gary took over the Maryland Terrapins, his alma matter, in 1989 and immediately faced NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations by his predecessor. Once the post season ban was lifted, the program took off. Gary brought prosperity back to the program with deep post season runs, a knack for beating the number 1 team in the country (a feat that Gary has done more than any other coach ever), a fierce rivalry with Duke, several high profile draft picks and, most importantly, by fueling the fire of a passionate fan base. My fellow Terps and I will really miss you, Gary.

Now, everybody to Bentley's! 

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