Is it sad to hear the news that Gary Williams has resigned as the head basketball coach of the University of Maryland? Yes, it is. But, instead of being bummed, Terrapin Nation should be eternally grateful for the great dedication he brought to the school. The joys he brought to so many Terps fans for winning the NCAA Championship last decade will never be forgotten. They should name the court at Comcast Center after Gary Williams and he should be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
We moved from Tokyo to the Washington, DC area just when the Terps were starting to enjoy a good run of success in the late 70’s / early 80’s. They had great and entertaining players — Albert King, Buck Williams, Ernie Graham, Greg Manning, etc. Then, in the mid 80’s I fell in love with the player who become one of my all-time favorites … Len Bias. I remember him as a raw freshman … so much potential and upside. And, it was great to watch to watch him grow into a great player. Who can forget those games he had in his last year against the bitter rivals — UNC Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils? But, then the sad day in June ’86 that none of us will ever forget. Most of my friends and I had the same reaction when we heard the sad news … “no f****** way, not Len.”
One of my closest friends, Kurt Helwig, and I went to Cole Field House to pay respects on a hot, humid day in June. I remember Coach Lefty Driesell asking the fans to give Lenny one more standing ovation. It’s been nearly 25 years but I will never forget that day. So many sad faces — so many tears.
Maryland then went through a tough couple of years under head coach, Bob Wade. He was in over his head. And, then who comes to the rescue? None other than Gary Williams. I was a fan of Gary Williams since he led my alma mater, American U, to its greatest success in the early 80’s before he went to coach the Ohio St Buckeyes. We were elated that Gary decided to come back home to coach the Terps.
I vividly recall being at Cole Field House for the NCAA Tourney in ’91. There we witnessed a great upset as the #15-ranked Richmond Spiders upset the ridiculously talented #-2 seed Syracuse. But, what I also remember is when Gary walked out to his seat — he got a standing ovation from hometown Terp crowd.
Terps fans also owe a lot of gratitude to Walt Williams for not abandoning the program. Instead, he stayed put and helped Gary start to put a foundation in place. There were so many good players, including Joe Smith, Steve Francis, Keith Booth, etc that played under Gary. But, in my heart, none of them come close to Juan Dixon. His story was and is remarkable. He lost both of his parents to drug use while he was in his teens. He came to Maryland as a scrawny freshman. But, under the great tutelage and guidance of Coach Williams, he turned into an incredible and fiery player who willed his team to wins. We used to call him the “Assassin” since he wanted to take the last-minute, game-winning shots. I loved being at the Verizon Center to watch him drill the shot that beat UConn in the NCAA tourney. And, we all loved the backcourt duo of Dixon and Steve Blake. They will forever be etched in our minds for bringing home the NCAA Championship.
Yes, I love the Georgetown Hoyas … Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Charles Smith, etc … but I’ll always be a two-team fan … both the Hoyas and the Terps.
Gary will be missed … he was a fiery competitor … who didn’t cheat the system … and who won with the players that weren’t McDonald’s All-Americans. Instead, he won with the players that he coached and molded into winners. Terps Nation owes many, many thanks for his contributions to the University of Maryland and to the Washington, DC basketball community. I look forward to the day the court at Comcast Center is named after Gary Williams as well as to the day he’s deservedly inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.