I’m a little emotional tonight. Not “Cal Ripken 2131″ emotional….but emotional none the less. I am old enough to remember the days of Maryland Basketball in the late 70’s and 80’s when the big names were King, Branch and Bias. Manning, Jackson and Veal. Buck, Gatlin and Coleman.
But i didnt attend Maryland until after the days of Lenny and Lefty. The big names when i started there were Rudy Archer, Brian Williams and Tony Massenburg. Maryland had just hired Bob Wade, he of the gaudy high school record and no big-time college experience. I hold no ill will toward Wade. In fact, I welcomed his hire as the Terrapins coach. I suppose he made some mistakes and may have been in over his head. But he didnt have much of a chance to make things work as the successor to Lefty Driesell. He seemed like a good man in a bad situation.
After his departure, Gary Williams came on the scene. NCAA sanctions were rumored to be on the horizon but the program had some solid talent. Jerrod Mustaf and Walt Williams were now the hot new names. The team was competitive in an ultra-competitive league.
Then the hammer fell on the new coach. There was no death penalty, luckily, in the wake of the Bias death and the Wade regime. But there was certainly more than a little slap on the wrist. I remember cramming into the auxiliary gym in Cole Field House for a press conference to announce what the NCAA sanctions would be toward the end of Williams’ fist season (3 years probation, 2 years no post-season, 1 year no live television – which meant no ACC tournament – and reduced scholarships). I snagged a copy of the press release while mingling with local reporters like Mike Littwin, John Eisenburg and Chris Thomas. I read it while guys like Fred Hickman buzzed around rubbing elbows with the sports guys from the D.C. networks looking for good seats.
It was a scene. I remember alot of people saying alot of things i really didnt care about. ACC and NCAA administrators, didnt matter to me…it all sounded the same, “SCREW MARYLAND!” I came to gym to hear one person speak….Coach Gary Williams. Finally, the first question came his way. And he couldn’t speak. He just sat there blankly staring over the heads of the gathered media, through the couple hundred students that were beginning to recognize that basketball at Maryland was being delivered a serious blow. I realized then, that he loved that school as much as us students did. He WAS one of us.
I remember shouting, maybe inappropriately but certainly spontaneously, something like “We’re with you, Gary!” It seemed to break the tension somewhat as other students voiced similar thoughts. The Coach eventually spoke. Emotion was palpable. Exact words have faded from memory. But i think the seeds of winning a National Title germinated that day. I think Coach Williams had great visions for Maryland when he was hired but i think that day, in that moment of reflection/defiance/hurt/hope, all of us had the same vision. Overcoming, rebuilding and achieving goals never before reached by the University’s basketball program. Coach Williams led it all.
I’ve said before, once the streak got rolling, for some reason, I always thought Cal Ripken would get to 2131. I’m not sure I ever had the same confidence of the Maryland Basketball program winning a National Title, but i think i rooted harder for it. The guy that took that job, at that time, with that hole to dig out of, deserved it. All the fans attending games in Cole back in the early 1990’s deserved it too. I’d just like to say thank you to Gary Williams. I am still with you.