Coaches Corner: No. 2 Maryland

Inside Carolina attended ACC Operation Basketball over a week ago. In the eight of a nine-part feature which has rolled out a new team every day, IC's Tommy Ashley has transcribed the comments of Maryland head coach Gary Williams. The Terps were picked No. 2 in the conference by the media.

How are you going to make up for Terence Morris' rebounds?

"That's probably my biggest concern because he averaged 9 ½ rebounds a game in the ACC games. Tahj Holden is 6-11 about 260 now and Chris Wilcox is about 6-9 and strong. Hopefully we can get it from those two guys this year and not be affected. But, to lose a three year starter, you are always affected by that. Of course, we lost Danny Miller, he transferred to Notre Dame. He played 24 minutes in the game against Stanford to get us to the Final Four. Anybody with that experience, you certainly miss too. We are looking to find a way to play basically the same way we played last year with a couple different people out there."

Is your backcourt as good as all the backcourts you've had?

"The backcourt…I think it's a really good backcourt. How good it will be this year, we'll have to see. But, they were good last year. What's helped out backcourt is the emergence of Drew Nicholas as a guy that can play either backcourt position, either the one or two, and give us a chance to rest Steve Blake or Juan Dixon. Or, if they get in foul trouble, we have a quality player with experience to go in there. So, I think with three, it is a very good backcourt."

Last year the team came out really sluggish. Have you noticed if they are really focused on avoiding that this year?

"We do have a lot of returning players so they are aware of what we did last year early. So, hopefully our practices show that. We are responding to that so we don't get in that same position. We play earlier this year than we did last—we play November 8th as opposed to around the 19th (last year)—we won't be where we want to be in terms of having everything in offensively and defensively, but attitude-wise and aggressiveness, all those things, hopefully we'll have. I don't think we were really as aggressive as we had to be going into play somebody like Illinois early last year."

How do you feel about playing so early?

"I've never done this before so this is new, starting against a quality opponent this early. I would rather see the college basketball season pushed back a little bit more. But, it's a great opportunity for us. You look at the four schools, it's going to be a great tournament and the cause, Coaches vs. Cancer, is a great thing too. There are a lot of good things about it. It's the same for each school involved so we don't have any advantage or disadvantage."

Is it the commercial pressure that spreads the season out….

"I think every sport that has the opportunity, does things for television or whatever. That's part of the game. Each school needs the money to run the athletic departments too. It's not just basketball. We don't do it just for us."

On the expectations for this season.

"We are picked high. We were picked fourth or fifth last year by most people so we've been through it before. It's nice if you can live up to those expectations but you can't coach your team or the players can't play based on those expectations. We are doing the same thing we do no matter where we are picked, which is, try to get as good as you can to face the schedule we have early. And, try to keep improving. The one thing we did last year, we had a couple of lulls, but we kept getting better in late February and March last year. We kept continuing to improve. I think that's the thing I try to tell the team that wherever they pick us, it really doesn't matter. It's how good we can get as a team and play our way up to a certain level to where you are very competitive at the end of the year."

In DC and Maryland, how are these expectation manifested. How does it touch you in your daily life.

"You have a lot more attention in terms of the media. A lot of people want to talk to your players and talk to you about the team. Things like that have increased. And the Redskins are down so we are getting a lot more attention (laughter) this year. It's something the players went through last year so it's not a new thing. It's not something we talk about a lot, we just deal with it. Just run a basketball team."

Can you address how far Juan has come since he came into Maryland?

"He's gotten better every year and that's the big thing with Juan. He's never stopped trying to improve. Some players plateau when they get to college. Juan, he got to play with Steve Francis one year and Steve has a great work ethic, and he got to see what it took to be a great player. Juan is one of those guard that is hard to describe because he plays a little differently. He's a little small for a two guard, but he finds ways to score. It's not a pure game, in other words, it's not shooting threes all the time. It's driving, it's getting a tip-in even though he's 6-3, things like that. He has a lot ways to score. And then he shoots close to 90% from the free throw line. That helps him too."

What about Lonny (Baxter)?

"Lonny was the first Maryland player to be the most valuable player of a region (in the NCAA Tournament). He just has a great work ethic. The guy lost 20 pounds to get where he is now physically. He's very quick at 255. He's about 6-8 and his probably playing against bigger players. He's a great competitor and he never says anything. Lonnie is a very quiet guy. He goes practice, games, he plays a certain way every game. You know what you are getting, which is a tremendous thing in coaching to have that confidence in your players."

Can you comment on your quote in a column by Andy Katz –"Most of these top 10 guys (recruits) get cheated on anyway. Why do that? Why not be a coach instead of a used car salesman?"

"Where that came from, we were talking about how players are rated in recruiting. A lot of the top 10 players have been offered things. That doesn't mean where they go to school and that was discussed but left out (of the column). We were just discussing how players are recruited. There are some schools that play completely straight, there are others, you can get a deal if you want a deal. And everybody knows that. I didn't say anything there that was new. What I say is it's ok to get a player that might be a Juan Dixon, who might not be a great player his freshman year. But by the time he's a junior or senior, he's developed into a great player. If you read a lot of the recruiting things every year, it's "this guy is a great impact player right away" and that's the only thing that determines whether your recruiting class is good. In other words, Taj Holden has developed into a pretty good player. You want to get a great player if you can, but at the same time, you need players in your program that are going to get better every year. So, that was the point I was trying to make there."

One could see that as an excuse for not getting the top players….

"You could. But, Steve Francis was the second guy taken in the (NBA) Draft. Joe Smith was the first guy taken. Keith Booth was the first round pick by the championship Chicago Bulls. So, we've had great players. I can get great players. I like to get other players too. The fun part of coaching is watching a guy get better, watching your team get better. I enjoy that as a coach. That's always been the thing. When I was a high school coach, I guess that's where it came from, you get a guy that's 14 and by the time he was 17, he was ready to go to college and be a man and that type of thing. So, I've always enjoyed that. When I finally got to be a head coach in college, practices are still fun because you get guys like that that are working really hard to get better. Not a guy that thinks he's (at the top) all the time, that thinks he's arrived, that he's as good as he has to be for the rest of his basketball career. So, it's great to get guys that are willing to work hard and go along with how you think about the game."

But we are not likely see from you,…..Billy Donovan (Florida coach) flew just to wave at a kid the first minute he could see them this past year. I guess you can say that's not your style, right?

"You know, there are a lot of ways to get it done. That's the one thing I know from being in coaching for a while now. A lot of guys are very successful. I do it my way. Guys have been more successful or just as successful doing it their way. Whatever it takes. Your school has a lot to do with it. The environment you live in, where you are. There are certain areas that put college basketball on a pedestal because there or no pro teams around or anything. Where we are, we are in a pro environment. We have every pro team represented very close to us. So, we are in a little different situation. You try to adjust to your situation. I have been other places. In Columbus, Ohio, we were the franchise. It's different."

Will you tell us about what this team afford you as a coach because of the great experience and experiences it had last year? You start at a different level than you would…

"You hope you can (start at a different level). The guys come in with a good attitude and that they aren't affected by last year in terms of how hard they are going to work. The majority of your players know the basic things about your offenses and defenses that you want to put in. But what you have to guard against is that they assume that they are going to be good in those areas without having to work toward it, which you have to do every year. You have to put in a certain amount of effort to get to a level. Just because you know something doesn't mean you are good at it. So, I've been pleased with the way our guys have approached practice so far, but like I said, we'll find out very quickly where we are this year because we are playing Nov. 8th and 9th against good teams."

How has getting to the Final Four changed you and your approach to coaching? Is anything different that you finally got into the Final Four?

"That hasn't changed the way I coach at all. I still coach the same way. Hopefully, we can be effective as a team this year. It's probably changed…it might change the way people look at me, sometimes, when you get to the Final Four, but not the way I am or what I feel about the game. I coached 33 years before getting to the Final Four counting high school. So, I am glad I got there…"

Do people pay you a higher respect that they may not have?

"Maybe. I think you have to stay at a certain level over the course of time then that might change. I don't know. For me personally, as long as I enjoy coaching, then it's a good thing. I like going to practice every day. That's always the judgment for me, whether I like to go to practice or not."

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