The state of Maryland basketball

March 14, 2008 |

Now that Maryland has blown another double digit lead against a marginal opponent, melted down in the second half, fumbled the ball away (21 turnovers), lost in the first round of the ACC tournament for the second straight year (not third straight year as I had originally written) on their way to yet another NIT appearance (3 of the last 4 years), it’s probably a good time to take a look at the state of Maryland basketball.

One word comes to mind; “mediocre”.

Since going to back to back Final 4’s (’01 and ‘02) and winning a National Championship in 2002, it’s been a downward spiral for the Terps.

Why? Good question. Let’s start with coaching. I’m on record with my belief that Gary Williams is a good coach. Even after another ugly loss, I stand by that. He’s won 600+ games and eventually will go to the hall of fame. Does he make some in-game decisions that leave you scratching your head (like the final 5 minutes of the Clemson game)? Sure, but have a look at some of the terrible head coaches in the ACC and other “power conferences” and you’ll gain a better appreciation for Gary’s sideline prowess.

The issue is talent, or lack of it. Gray Williams is on record as saying that he likes to recruit players that dream of playing at Maryland or something to that effect. News flash, coach….kids don’t dream about playing for a team that goes to the NIT year after year.

At the end of the ‘07 football season, Terps head football coach Ralph Friedgen had some tough decisions to make. At 6-6, his team barely qualified for bowl eligibility, after missing the bowl cycle two of the previous three years. He has solid role players, but not many game changers. He was also losing the best high school players in his backyard (State of Maryland and the DC suburbs) to several other schools. It was time to step up or get stepped on for Maryland Football.

Three coaches left his staff, one voluntarily, two were shown the door. They were replaced by three coaches (one has since departed for the NFL and has been replaced) each and every one came with a reputation as an excellent recruiter. Problem addressed. Results remain to be seen…

See any parallels between the current state of the Maryland football and basketball programs?

As I have written before, Maryland basketball is seriously lacking in the “talent acquisition” (i.e.: recruiting) department.

Have a look at the top eight players from the 2002 National Championship team and compare them with the top eight from this year’s squad:

2002: Steve Blake (NBA), Juan Dixon (NBA), Chris Wilcox (NBA), Byron Mouton (Overseas), Lonny Baxter (Europe), Tahj Holden (Europe / Retired) Ryan Randall (Overseas), Drew Nicholas (Overseas – Superstar).

2007 – 2008: Eric Hayes, Greivis Vasquez, James Gist, Landon Milbourne, “Boom” Osby, Jerome Burney, Cliff Tucker, Adrian Bowie.

The talent difference between those two teams is astounding. Plus, the ‘02 team was tough as nails.

I don’t spend much time following high school recruiting and could care less if Maryland inks so-called “top 50” recruits of McDonald’s All-Americans, because they don’t always pan out. What they do need is to identify and recruit top level players who can physically and mentally play within Gary’s flex system.

What Maryland has done well under Gary Williams’ leadership is to recruit solid players and overachievers. His roster is loaded with role players. Athletes like Landon Milbourne, Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker and Jerome Burney can be good four year players at Maryland. It’s doubtful, however, that any of them will ever be a dominant ACC players or NBA prospect.

What the Terps they lack are studs. Players who walk out of a high school gym onto the floor at Comcast Center and make a difference from day one. Gary’s had a few of them over the years; Joe Smith and Keith Booth come to mind. Unfortunately they are the exception, not the rule. Elite talent wins and Maryland needs more of it.

Like Ralph Friedgen a few months ago, Gary Williams is at a similar crossroads. He’s 63 years old, makes $2,000,000+ a year, and is an accomplished college basketball coach. But, he’s left the door open and area teams like Georgetown (who was awful when Maryland was going to back to back Final Fours) have kicked it wide open.

The best players in the state of Maryland and the DC suburbs are going to Georgetown, and other name programs like Texas and Syracuse. Truthfully, the folks at George Mason have a better recent track record for recruiting and developing players than our beloved Terps.

So, here’s the 2 million dollar question? Is Gary ready to roll up his sleeves, hit the recruiting trail hard and convince 17 year old kids that together they can put Maryland back on a national stage? 

Like Ralph Friedgen recently did, is Gary Williams ready and willing to assess himself and his current staff to see if they are willing to spend the countless days, week and months on the road battling the top programs in the country for elite players?

To say that Maryland has a haphazard method for “acquiring talent” is an understatement. In recent times, there have been high school players who have been courted for years, only to be slow played down the stretch or blown off near the national signing date. Other recruits seem to suddenly appear out of nowhere. Then, there are the Junior College (JUCO) players who are typically a band-aid to cover up past recruiting mistakes. You have them for two years, and hope to get one good season out of them.

Let’s not forget the player (Shane Clark) who actually enrolled and was on campus, only to be told he didn’t qualify academically at Maryland. He now plays at Villanova.

Oh yeah, a little recruiting luck now and then never hurts either.

Let’s take a look at the incoming recruits for the ‘08 – ‘09 season:

Sean Mosley – a 6’3” shooting guard from St. Frances Academy in Baltimore. Generally considered to be a good get for the Terps. More of a scorer than a pure shooter. A strong, physical player (think Duke’s DeMarcus Nelson without the three point range). Maryland scouted and recruited Mosley hard for 2 years. Fought off Syracuse to get his signature. Will not be a game changer from day one, but can help the Terps as a freshman (if he qualifies).This is an example of good, old fashioned recruiting.

Gus Gilchrist – a 6’9” power forward from the DC suburbs. Originally signed a letter of intent with Virginia Tech in November ’06. Maryland was somewhat involved in his recruitment, but was not a finalist for his signature. Gilchrist had a very good senior year, and saw his stock rise significantly nationally, especially after getting MVP honors at the Capital Classic last April. He decided not to attend Va. Tech after the campus shootings last spring. The Hokies (very reluctantly) let him out of his letter of intent. He looked at Maryland and Georgetown, who had just signed the #1 high school (Greg Monroe) in the country, who just happens to play the same position as Gilchrist. Gus is practicing with the team and will be eligible to play (as a sophomore) in December ‘08. Early reports are that he may be an instant impact freshman. This is an example of luck. The Terps were late to the party initially, and then caught a break from both Va. Tech and Georgetown.      

Bobby Maze – a 6’ 2” shooting guard from Hutchinson CC in Kansas. Committed and will sign a letter of intent in April if he qualifies academically. Originally from the DC suburbs, Maze spent his freshman year at Oklahoma, where he reportedly didn’t see eye to eye with head coach Jeff Capel. Maze is supposed to add desperately needed quickness to the backcourt. Is there a slower, and worse ball handling starting backcourt in the ACC than Maryland’s? This is an example of two things; filling a need in case one of your guards (i.e.: Vasquez) does not return next season and putting a band-aid on a recruiting mistake.       

 

Ken Bowman – a 6’8” center and teammate of Maze’s at Hutchinson CC in Kansas. Has not committed publicly to Maryland, because as of today the Terps are at the 13 scholarship player limit for next year and there is not a grant available for Bowman…yet. If you read between the lines, Maryland is expecting some attrition in the front court. With Gist and Osby graduating, and the lack of any proven returning post players (they have numbers, but not quality in the post), Maryland is looking for immediate scoring help in the front court. This is an example of putting a band-aid on a recruiting mistake…or two.      

So, there you have it. The incoming 2008 – 2009 Terps class. A combination of good old fashioned recruiting, luck, filling a need that may not have been expected at the beginning of the season, and band-aid for recent recruiting mistakes.

Folks, that’s how you go to the NIT three out of four years. That, and having back to back 5-6 man recruiting classes (that’s too many players in one year), followed up by 1-2 man recruiting classes (not enough players). Stick to 3-4 man recruiting classes as much as possible and you won’t have to mine the JUCO ranks for help. Two man recruiting classes like James Gist and Sterling Ledbetter in 2004 and the Dave Neal, Parrish Brown duo of 2005 are killing Maryland. 

The turnover in assistant coaches doesn’t help either. Yes, there needs to be a better game plan in place for recruiting players, but stability on the coaching staff is just as important. Dave Dickerson (head coach at Tulane), Jimmy Patsos (head coach at Loyola), Mike Lonergan (left after one season, and maybe not on great terms, to be the head man at Vermont), Rob Moxley (left after one year, maybe not on great terms, to return as an assistant at Charlotte), Michael Adams (mysteriously resigned just before the start of this season) have all left since the 2002 championship season. 

Is Gary willing to make the tough choices in the off season, or is he okay with the mediocrity?

Here’s a better question. How much longer will his bosses and the big money boosters continue to put up with the mediocrity? 

That’s enough from me for now. Feel free to add your 2 cents…     

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