ACC Preview: Maryland

Gary Williams

On the youth

You walk down a hallway (here at this meeting) and you don't recognize everybody this year. Next year, you might recognize everybody.

Can you tell any difference in guys like Drew [Nicholas] and Steve[Blake] now that they have that [National Championship] ring?

They are more confident. You forget the basketball thing, they've accomplished something in their life. Say you put everything into a winning a Pulitzer Prize and then you win the Pulitzer Prize, it gives you that confidence. I think it's done for them as people. All three of those guys [Tahj Holden, Blake and Nicholas] have that confidence. What you hope is that it doesn't take away their urgency for us to be a great team this year. You want those three guys to use that confidence to help the guys that might not have that confidence and the new guys coming in to make us a better team. I think we you do something like that [win the Championship], the impact that has, you can't measure that right now. It's a lifetime thing that will allow those guys to be special. At least around the University of Maryland.

Is there still an afterglow from that championship or did you end that the first day of practice?

Well I wasn't really nice the first day of practice (laughter). So I put that fire out. That is something that I thought a lot about this summer, how it would feel to start practice. People have been great. You didn't want the offseason to end because there were very few people that were upset with us this summer (laughter). But you know that that will all stop and you will get measured on this season, how good we are, whether we can play or not play. So you have to stop it, you have to make sure the players understand that. And, by the time they came in and started lifting weights in September and starting running and doing all those things you do that they don't necessarily like to do, I could tell and I could feel the start of practice coming and getting ready for the start. I'd say it ended, but you still have it, it's still there. If we hadn't won the National Championship last year, then last season, whatever we would have done, would have been faded a lot more.

Was that a line or were you really hard the first day [of practice]?

I was hard the first day.


I wanted to make sure we were working hard the first day, that we weren't wasting time thinking we were good because we won it last year or whatever. We had to understand that this was this year and it's just like any other year. We went to the Final Four the year before so there was lot of thought that we were really going to be good this past year. But we had to practice hard so we were good last year. We couldn't come in and rest on the fact that we were a Final Four team the year before.

Is this, for you, an unusually put together team? You lack those midsize guys…

Yea, [Chris] Wilcox is a good example of that. He would have been a junior this year. We are probably going to be pretty experienced and really young.

I mean, in terms of body types, there aren't that many 6-5, 6-7 types that you maybe have had along the course of time.

Body types? Yea, you are right. We are a little taller than we usually are. We are 6-7 with [Nik Caner-] Medley, 6-8 with [Travis] Garrison. 6-8, 6-9 with Jamar Smith.

Will that change your defense?

It could. We are trying to find out if we can still press with a little bigger team. The one thing we could do this year is go small at times, with Drew Nicholas, Steve Blake and say, John Gilchrist on the floor. Or go with Medley at the three and play Blake and Nicholas together. So it might be two different looking teams. That's what you are going to see this year rather than that constant flow of one type of team.

You've been in the league, have you seen a year like this? You look around and there are a lot of different questions with a lot of different teams.

I think there are more teams that have questions this year than probably any year since I have been here. But that's not necessarily a bad thing for the league because I think it's going to be as an exciting a league as it has been in a while.

How is Gilchrist doing so far? What will his role be?

He's playing really well. He's going against the most experienced guy he could go against everyday in practice in Steve Blake. I think that is really helping him to really learn what's expected of him at the point guard position because Steve and I have been together three years now and he knows what play to call and what's going on. John's picking up on that and plus, John and Steve are very good together. That's the one thing I've seen. Steve Blake can really shoot the ball and you can get Steve off the ball and rest him a little bit by putting John in the game. In practice, there hasn't been a big letdown with that. That might allow us to get Drew Nicholas in as a third guard and play that way if that's the way we should play.

What kind of an advantage does it give your team to have a senior leader like Steve Blake?

He's probably played more games at the point guard position than anybody else coming back in college basketball. More big games anyway. So that's always an advantage. When you play these teams in preseason, they are always able to hang with you for a little bit if they are a good team because the guys are 27 and 28 and might not be as good an athlete or in as good of shape but they know the game a little better. That's where Steve has an edge over a lot of college players right now. He knows how the college game works.

Is that what makes him successful? I mean, he's not biggest, fastest, strongest guy out there.

Well, he's a little quicker than you think and he's a very good shooter. He's got a certain toughness about him. He and Juan Dixon had the same thing going for them in terms of toughness. When you look at them, they can't be tough. They weighed about 300 pounds together if you added them up, but they are very tough people, for different reasons. They had the same thing. Steve brings that to the team this year and that is good for the other guys. It really is.

One of the great things about Juan is he always wanted to take big shots. Do you see anyone on this team that can do that?

Steve Blake took one against Connecticut to get to the Final Four. He hadn't scored yet and we were in time out with 15 seconds left on the shot clock. We had to play set up were we were going to go to Juan or Drew Nicholas or Lonnie [Baxter] if we could drop it inside. Blake had the ball in that situation and he said, "I'm going to get open when I come off the screen because they aren't going to guard me." I said, "There's a reason they are not going to guard you, you haven't scored yet." That's how that works. He said if he was open, he could make it. I said, if you are open, take it, but make sure you are open. He wasn't real open, he was kind of open, but he still took it and made it. That's the type of player he's always been. He's made incredible shots in pressure situations. Now we want him to score more during the game. I think he feels he's earned the right to do that.

How are the freshmen coming along, how are they adapting to your system?

They are working hard. That's what you always worry about with high school kids. I wasn't worried about the talent, how good they were. I was worried about how hard they work. A lot of times, these guys aren't pushed because now in high school and the AAU thing during the summer, coaches are worrying about them transferring or going to a different team. So there is a tendency not to get on them at all. But these guys seemed to have come in wanting to play and they are willing to work at whatever it takes. Some of them know they'll play too. We have got to come up with some people, especially for our bench, that can come into the game and give us some good minutes.

How is Jamar Smith?

He's pretty good. He reminds me a little of Ryan Randle coming in. He's figuring it out pretty quick. The thing about Junior College players, they have to quickly adjust. They know they only have two years and they don't want to waste a year. They listen pretty well.

Was there something leading up that first practice where you saw you maybe needed to be hard on the team or was that a decision you made then?

I would say I was any harder on them but I thought the question was 'Was I going to take it easy since we won the NCAA last year?' No. I was going to be myself in practice. I guess I'm considered pretty hard in practice.

Are you defending a title or is this different since there are so many new players?

Oh, we are defending the title. We are the only team [that won]. So whatever that means. Hopefully we won't play any harder than we did last year because hopefully we played as hard as we could last year when we weren't defending the title. I think if teams get up for us because we won the title, that's great. That's a nice thing. I'd like to be in that position next year (laughter).

Do you think it's odd that you won the championship and you aren't picked to win the ACC this year?

No, not with who we lost. Honestly, we lost some great players. They had to prove they were great college players but they did, which I like. So not to be picked, it's ok. But I think you shouldn't over look us. I think we are going to be a pretty good basketball team.

Steve Blake

Does the league feel wide open to you?

It looks like it's going to be wide open. It's been two teams on top with us and Duke and of course we are going to try and keep it that way. But we'll have wait and see. There are a lot of unknown players out there in the ACC. We'll have to wait and see who'll step up.

How do you deal with losing guys like Juan Dixon, Lonnie Baxter, knowing those guys put everything they had out there on the court every night?

You deal with it by making yourself a better player. By making sure your teammates are making themselves better players. Make sure everyone is working as hard as they can to step and take over those spots. That's what we've done. We are definitely going to be able to play even though they are gone.

Will you play off the ball a little with maybe [John] Gilchrist playing the point? Is that something you are looking at happening?

I'm pretty sure I am going to play some 2 this year. Looking to score a little more. So it's definitely an option.

Are you tutoring him, bring him along?

Yea. Of course coach is doing a lot of teaching with the young guys. But when I feel like I see something, I definitely let him know, let him understand what he needs to do to make himself a better player in our system. So there is definitely a lot of teaching going on.

Do you see the three of you getting on the floor occasionally with you, John and Drew [Nicholas]?

Yea I believe that will happen. That's up to the coaches but I think that would definitely be an option for us during the season.

What would that do for you guys on the floor?

It would make us very quick. Me and Drew on the floor playing the two and three. We can both pass, we can both shoot. Gilchrist is pretty athletic. He can play the game. It would definitely makes us a faster team.

Do you personally feel differently after the championship and losing a few guys that were always making the plays?

I am approaching it like I do every year. I worked hard in the offseason. I understand that I am going to have to do a little more and I like that. That's why I play.

How does winning the National Championship change you personally?

Personally? Not much. Why would it change me? I still work as hard. I am still the same person. In public, I am little more recognizable I guess in this area. I am still the same person I've always been though.

Talk about the shot against UConn last season. Rough game, you come up and hit a big shot.

That was definitely one of the toughest games I've ever been in, with the lead going back and forth. We couldn't pull away from them. That last shot, I wanted to make something happen and that's what I did. Thankfully it worked out for me.

Drew Nicholas

Once the game starts, how do you deal with being the National Champions?

I think that's something we are going to have to accept. We are going to have that target on our backs since we are the National Champions. Every team that we play, they are going to be out to get us. Obviously we are not the same team as last year, we don't have the same guys. But we understand that and accept it.

Does that change the way you approach things? You have to approach things better all the time now.

Definitely because if we don't, somebody is going to come up and get us. That's not once of the things that we want and I think Coach Williams is going to try and reassure that teams are going to be after us and looking to get us. So, we are going to be coming out playing hard.

At Virginia last year, you are down nine with three minutes to go and won. Do you feel that helped propel you guys to what you were eventually able to do? Was that a boost?

I think so. I think one of the main reasons it was a boost is Virginia has always been of those teams, especially there, that we've had trouble with. It was one of those games, in past years folks watching on television would have turned off and said, well, they lost another one at Virginia. I think a lot of people had that thought. Once we pulled that game out, I think people began to realize how special a team we could be and I think that propelled us to the NCAA Tournament.

You've played a big role the last couple of years but this year, it will be even bigger. How have you prepared for that? Any differently?

I haven't really prepared any differently. I just understand my role. I think it's more of a mindset thing. A change in my mindset. Instead of becoming a sparkplug or a sixth man, I have to become one of the leaders from the jump, especially with all the young guys. Become more of a vocal leader. I know my scoring opportunities are going to increase but I have the best point guard, especially in the conference to do that. He knows when to get me the ball at the right time. So I am real confident.

How big an advantage is that to have a senior experienced point guard like Steve Blake?

It's an exceptional advantage. We have a senior point guard and we have a true freshman point guard and you can see the difference. Not saying John Gilchrist isn't going to be a very good player, but he's got to learn how to play the college game and learn when to get guys the ball. Steve already knows.

Word on the street is like Juan Dixon went from freshman to sophomore year from seven points per game to 18 or something like that, word is you can be that guy this year.

I hope so. I am definitely going to be looking to score a lot more this year and I understand we lost a lot of scoring from last year. Guys are going to have to step up and score the ball and I know I am capable of putting the ball in the basket. It's just a matter of me getting open so Steve can get it to me. I have no doubt that Steve can get it to me.

What about the front line? Lonny's 20 and 10 is gone.

Lonnie was real good for us. He's one of those guys we hate to see leave because he's that kind of impact for us night in and night out. We have Tahj Holden and Ryan Randle is going to be very good for us this year. I think he's one of the guys people tend to overlook because he didn't play a whole lot last year. Sort of like how Chris [Wilcox] was from his freshman to sophomore year, people weren't expecting to see Chris blossom the way he did. I think you might see that this year from Ryan.

Can you replace a guy like Wilcox with his athleticism and the ability to change the game?

My simple answer is no. Take a look at where he went in the draft. He's just one of those true physical specimens that had all the physical capabilities to do certain things. But we have guys that can get the job done. Maybe not in the fashion that Chris dunked the ball and things like that but we have guys that can bang down low inside.

Could Dixon be a prototype for you? Could you be that kind of player in terms of style?

I think the biggest thing that Juan is that Juan learned how to score the ball without having the ball in his hands that long. He only needed maybe a second or second and a half to put the ball in the hoop. That's one of the things I've learned from him. The way our offense is, we are running the same offense we did last year, you are going to see me having the ball in the same kind of situations that Juan Dixon did last year.

Is this an offense that you can plug a guy in?

In our offense, it's weird because the 2 and 3 do basically the same thing and the 4 and 5 basically do the same thing. Obviously we had our special sets to get Juan the ball when we needed him to score. But, I am taking it as a challenge and looking for to it as an opportunity. Just for you guys to put me in a comparison with Juan at some point throughout the year would be a great accomplishment.

Coach said not too many people were upset with you guys this summer after winning. What was it like this summer?

This summer was great. It's kind of hard in the sense that there were so many people. But it was just a great feeling around the Maryland DC area because we hadn't gotten one and we finally did. It was just a real good time.

Anything stick out?

I mean, meeting the President, that's not something a lot of people can say they've done. Once fall came around, we knew we had to get back and get ready to work.

Coach said he gave you guys a wake up call the first day of practice saying you guys hadn't won anything yet this year.

That's definitely true. I think one of the main things he instilled in us is we are not the championship team. We aren't the same 13 guys that won last year. This is a new team and he basically with all the new guys, tell them how hard we had to work last year to win. It doesn't come easy. A lot of times it's a once in a lifetime thing but we are working towards it again.

Were some of you guys still walking on that cloud nine or do you think you were ready?

I think we were ready because we were able to get that feeling and we know what that feeling is like, and we want to experience that feeling again. So I think that's the biggest reason as to why we are still hungry.

Talk about the last few minutes of the championship game. Can you put anything like that in words?

Ahh, it feels like yesterday but it was such a long time ago already. I remember the game was dull. It wasn't the prettiest of Championship games. It was a defensive struggle. But I just remember when the clock hit zero. That was amazing. That was the best.

What did coach say to you afterwards? Thank you?

Yea (laughing). Thank you, I've been trying to get this for 25 years. I think everybody understood exactly what we did and how big of an accomplishment it was. If we didn't, we really understood it by the time we got back to Maryland because it was everywhere we went. You wouldn't even think, but people were recognizes us and congratulating us on a good job.

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