Three For Thursday

February 07, 2008 |

  1. Congratulations to Maryland Men’s Basketball Head Coach Gary Williams on his 600th career victory last night.  The timing was fitting; the Terps won a tough ACC road game against Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass.  Coach Williams headed the BC program in the early to mid 1980’s before heading to Ohio State, then ultimately coming back to his alma mater to salvage the basketball program in the wake of the Bob Wade era in 1989.  600 victories is a remarkable achievement.  It takes literally decades to compile that type of career.  As proof of that, here’s a quick snapshot of my first Gary Williams memory.

I was a freshman at Northeastern University in Boston in the winter of 1984-85.  I was a journalism major and covered the basketball team for the school newspaper.  At the time, NU was led by a skinny sophomore forward who could shoot from just about anywhere on the court.  Reggie Lewis was from Baltimore’s Dunbar High School, and we would have lunch together once or twice a week in the dormitory cafeteria and just talk about Baltimore and basketball and girls.  We were usually joined by another freshman from Baltimore named Kevin McDuffie, who had played his high school ball at Lake Clifton High School.  I’d always pick their brains about basketball theory, practice drills, and the difference in talent between high school basketball and Division I college basketball.  That Huskies team won 24 games if memory serves me correctly.  They were deep and talented and coached by Jim Calhoun, a true Southie Boston Irishman who lived basketball.  We’d talk about upcoming games, opponents’ strengths and weaknesses and NCAA tournament hopes. 

One of the biggest games on the schedule each year was Boston College.  The Eagles were coached by Gary Williams and led on the floor by a dynamic little point guard named Michael Adams.  Even though it was a non-conference game, it held bragging rights because the winning school knew they were the best college basketball team in the city of Boston. 

I sat at the press table at midcourt at Matthews Arena that night.  Gary Williams, I had been told, was reknowned for his sideline intensity and propensity to sweat through suits.  He was also highly regarded as an in-game coach by Jim Calhoun.

That game didn’t disappoint.  BC won, but in my memory’s eye I still see Reggie Lewis splashing feathery soft jumpers while Michael Adams zipped all over the court, dribble penetrating, playing tight man-to-man defense and launching long jumpshots that would have been worth three points today.  It was a genuinely exciting college basketball game that featured future NBA players that very few casual fans had even heard of yet.

After the game, as I interviewed Gary Williams, I was struck by his genuine honesty.  He spoke respectfully of NU, their players and the game of basketball in general.  It was obvious that he loved the game and was committed to it for life.  His passion and joy was in coaching these young men, not just in basketball, but in preparing them for life.  He was decent and honest and dedicated.  Just like Jim Calhoun.  The fact that each of them won National Championships later (although while coaching at different schools) always makes me smile.  I feel a very small connection to them because of that year and that particular game.

So congrats again, Coach.  1985 was a long time ago, but you’re still at it, winning games at the highest level of college hoops.  600 wins.  The all-time winningest coach in UM basketball history.  Wow.  Time sure flies.

I look forward to your 700th sometime around 2013, Coach.  It’ll be here before you (or I) know it.

 

  1. Thinking about Reggie Lewis always makes me alternately happy and sad.  His untimely and far too early death robbed me of a friend and left unwritten one of the best underdog stories in Baltimore sports history.  From 6th man on the legendary Dunbar teams of the early 1980’s, to a tremendous college career at Northeastern to ultimately becoming captain of the NBA’s most storied franchise, the life of Reggie Lewis is too often underappreciated and, sadly, sometimes forgotten.

I got to know Reggie during that freshman year (I ultimately failed a Spanish course and wound up transferring to UMBC – long story for another blog).  He was a quiet, courteous and funny man.  We’d shoot pool in the dorms’ common room, hanging with Kevin McDuffie and a few other players.  They’d crack jokes on each other and me, even when I was schooling them on the table.  Our Baltimore bonds were a source of pride amongst us.  We appreciated and understood Baltimore’s history and tradition of high school basketball.  Any time another player would try to diss our town, we’d verbally gang-tackle that person into submission.  They didn’t know the truth about how great it was and what it meant.

I never really cared for the Celtics.  The NBA never mattered much to me as a kid growing up.  I have no real clear-cut memory of the Baltimore Bullets.  They were gone to Landover just as I was growing into a die-hard Baltimore sports fan.  But I still loved basketball, especially the college version, and to be welcomed into the “inner circle” of a college team as a freshman was beyond cool.  Just like I thought of Reggie.  Beyond cool.  So when he was drafted by the Celtics, I became a fan because of him.  My friendship with him from those long-gone days at NU gave me a reason to watch his career. 

And what a career he had.  It was just cut far too short, as was his life.

Reggie Lewis is and was a Baltimore treasure.  He was a humble and good man who made me feel welcome to sit down with him and talk about anything at any time.  There were no pretensions about him.  He never played the big shot, never pushed people away from him, always made you feel a little better about things just from hanging around him and shooting the breeze.

We could all learn from the kind of man and the type of life Reggie lived.

I miss him to this day.

 

 

3  .Since it’s mid-February, and I’ve got college basketball on the brain (obviously), I’d like to propose an idea that’s been floated before and still hasn’t happened.

Just as Philadelphia has the Big Five, so does Baltimore.  Why can’t this city get all of its college teams to play each other once a year and have a title for Best of Baltimore?  Just look at the jobs these coaches are doing around town and tell me the time isn’t right to try and make this a reality.  Coppin State, Morgan State, Towson University, UMBC and Loyola.  All programs on the right track, with dedicated coaching staffs and talented players.  All programs that are searching for more exposure and success.  What better way to announce to potential recruits and local fans that college basketball matters in Baltimore?  One game against each school = four total games for each.  Can’t there be some way to make this happen?  I realize we don’t have an equivalent venue such as The Palestra in Philly, but I’d make a trip to the Arena to watch Loyola play Morgan St. 

I realize there used to be attempts at this like “Battle of the Beltway”, but those games were played as a quasi-tournament, usually in late November or early December.  I propose these games be played now, during the height of college basketball season, and sprinkled around each school’s schedule during their regular conference games.  They’ve done it like that in Philly for over 50 years and it seems to work.  If you don’t believe me, just go watch Penn-Villanova at The Palestra on a cold February night.  It may not be a conference game, but it’s better than that: It’s a Big Five game.

Baltimore has a long and storied tradition of high school basketball.  Great players, legendary teams and long remembered games.  What Pat Kennedy, Jimmy Patsos, Randy Monroe, Todd Bozeman and Fang Mitchell are doing is trying to create that same type of tradition at the local college level.

Coming up with a round-robin series of games against each other, especially in January and February each year, would help the stature of the game and the schools.  It only makes sense.

Maybe too much sense.

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