Sunday, March 15, 2009

I Double Dare You To Count Out Gary Williams

A few days ago I wrote a 2,200-word entry on what was wrong with the Maryland Men's basketball program just waiting to be published. I had a placeholder for the score when I thought they'd lose to NC State. Then I had to change the placeholder for the Wake Forest game. And now, thanks to Gary's most unlikely team yet to make the NCAA Tournament, landing a 10th seed no less, I won't have to publish that entry anytime soon.

So long MD March Madness t-shirt. Even I must admit it has too many holes and must be thrown away; it's what happens when you lighten your moving load.

I still believe Gary is a poor recruiter, often getting B-level talent in a conference that demands A-level players. His coaching ability running the flex offense is undeniable, it's just his recruiting that could use some help. Few coaches in the country could take a team with no player taller than 6'7" and get in the tournament, but at the same time few coaches would voluntarily put themselves in a position to coach a team with no size.

Gary Williams - specializing in overperforming underdogs.

Nevertheless, Gary got this squad in the tournament when everyone counted them out. Losing to UVA to end the season required the team to play better than it had the last two weeks to beat NC State and Wake Forest, and damnit the team played its best ball when it mattered most. The team not only did that, but it got a boost in its seeding with a competitive game versus Duke on Saturday.

You're not a MD fan if you don't get sappy watching this.

I still think Maryland should have had a stronger program after winning the title 7 years ago. The program should have gone from yearly tournament bubble team to regular top 4 tournament seed. Some bad luck with a highly-touted class and the loss of assistant coaches Jimmy Patsos and Dave Dickerson (the team's main recruiters) have hurt things in College Park.

It's all the more reason why Gary must spend the time being the team's recruiter and not leave it to his mix of assistant coaches. Just imagine how far he'd go with real talent? There's nothing wrong with running an ultra-clean program, and MD still needs it 20 years after being in the dumps, but it wouldn't hurt to talk to some AAU coaches instead of getting leftovers. PG County is the country's hoops hotbed, but MD can't land any of them?

Long live the greatest free t-shirt ever given out at Cole Field House!

But let's celebrate the accomplishment that is this year's team. Gary did a ton with a little; probably his best coaching job to date. I must admit that it is fun to see my team back in the big dance. Filling out my bracket with the chance to put them through to the Final Four brings a big smile. Sure they'll probably lose to Memphis in the 2nd round, but I've never believed in any Memphis squad because they play in a talentless league and well, why not.

Just when it seems safe to count out a Gary Williams-coached squad, that's when the team magically delivers. I'm sure glad he came through this season.

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