Driving down the road yesterday coming home from work, I turn on sports radio because my iPod had just died. No more than 2 minutes later, I hear the sports radio announcer say that Gary Williams is retiring from Maryland after 22 years.
It’s the right time. My entire career has been an unbelievable blessing. I am fiercely proud of the program we have built here. I couldn’t have asked any more from my players, my assistant coaches, the great Maryland fans and this great university. Together, we did something very special here.
My first initial reaction to the news was shock. I mean I know Gary Williams is 66 years old but I figured we still had some years to go especially after he had brought in a very solid class for next year to mesh with the club he has from the past year. So as I drove home, I just pondered what Gary Williams meant to me (the only coach I’ve known since rooting for Maryland) and what he meant to the University of Maryland.
As many of you know, my favorite sport is basketball. I love to play it on the courts. I love watching it whether it be on the college or pro level. As a kid, I grew up a Maryland fan since my dad was a Maryland fan and loved “Lefty” Driesell. I remember him talking to me about Len Bias and how Lefty came to Maryland to create the UCLA of the East. With the death of Bias, Maryland basketball faced the challenge of trying to overcome it as well as deal with the sanctions levied by the NCAA due to his death from cocaine. Gary Williams took over the program and the first team I really remember was a team led by Keith Booth (a current assistant at Maryland). They may have not been the best team but they played with heart and with everything they had.
Coach Williams had many players roll through College Park over the last 22 years and some of my favorites were Booth, Walt Williams, Joe Smith, Juan Dixon, Lonnie Baxter, Chris Wilcox, Steve Blake, Greivis Vasquez, Landon Milbourne, and Jordan Williams. So many different personalities but they all played with heart and passion for the game. It came together for Maryland as they won the 2002 National Championship over Indiana 62-50 after coming so close the previous years and having the epic battles with Duke and Coach K in the late 90s and early 2000s. I remember watching the Duke game in my dorm room where Jay Williams brought the Blue Devils back from 10 points with less than a minute. I was literally unable to speak as it felt like a groin kick, followed by a punch to the face, and another groin shot afterwards just for good measure. My roommate at the time had no words to comfort me. Now with those feelings and many others of heartbreak, I watched the national championship game in 2002 at the 625 House in Harrisonburg, Virginia with my buddies. When the final buzzer sounded I was elated and overjoyed as a fan but especially for Maryland and Gary Williams. It was vindication for all the hard work he had put in and where he had brought the Terrapins from.
I recently heard a coach say, “You can’t always play good but you can always play hard.” It may have not been Gary Williams that said that but that was the way Gary coached his players to play. Play hard and play with passion.