Right now, Maryland (13-7, 2-4) has no inside game whatsoever. Dave Neal, a six-foot-seven forward, starts at center. And Greivis Vasquez, a guard, leads the team in rebounding (5.7 per game).
Oddly enough, the Terps' usual flaw, free throw shooting, is actually a strength now (77.3%). But the team can't seem to overcome its lack of size and poor three-point shooting (30.6%).
But enough about that. If you've watched any games this year, you know that Maryland is obviously struggling. And hopefully you didn't watch the Duke game.
Because of the struggles of the past few years, Williams is under attack -- seemingly from all angles. Blogs and talking heads on TV and the radio are calling for his resignation or termination. Fans who never really seemed to worry about such things are now curious as to why Maryland hasn't recruited big name players. The athletic department, and specifically Athletic Director Debbie Yow, doesn't get along with Williams. The communication between the two is terrible, and the issues even boiled over recently during a locker room interview with Williams:
Take a look. I coach here. I’ve got to live here. That’s the way it is. I have coached here for 20 years, long before anybody else was here. Nobody was here 20 years ago.
Williams never says things like this to the press; he's usually pretty calm and collected, unlike his on-the-court demeanor. But he's right in this case. No one wanted to come to Maryland when he did, and he turned the program around. He made Maryland basketball nationally relevant and helped lead the team to a national championship.
I agree that winning a national championship doesn't grant a coach a lifetime "Get out of jail free" card, if you will, but when breaking down what has transpired the last several years, Williams doesn't look as bad as many have figured.
The biggest issue is that of recruiting, or to many, the lack thereof. Because things fell through with prized recruit Gus Gilchrist, the Terps were left extremely thin in the front court. Because Williams never really brings in the absolute best recruits, many fans attribute that as to why Maryland has been struggling.
Williams is an outstanding coach, but he absolutely refuses to bend the rules in the recruiting world. He won't hire a player's friend, father, uncle, cousin, or whoever to make sure that player ends up on his team. He won't make deals under the table with AAU coaches or various shady characters to ensure a talented player ends up in College Park.
And, to be frank, if you think Gary Williams is going to change his ways at this point in his career, you've got another thing coming.
Basically, most fans are on one of two sides on Williams's coaching status with the Terps:
1) You still have faith in Williams and think he can turn the program around.
2) You think he needs to leave.
Because, really, this isn't Blue Chips, and Williams isn't going to alter his recruiting stance. He isn't all of a sudden going to start bringing in the Michael Beasleys, Kevin Durants, and Carmelo Anthonys of the basketball world. He refuses to bend the rules, and whether others agree with his methods, he should still be commended for running such a clean -- and successful -- program.
Now, to discuss the level of talent Maryland has had in recent years, listed below are the starting fives and top four reserves of the Maryland teams since 2001-2002.
* 4-star Rivals rating
** 5-star Rivals rating
*** Drafted by NBA team
2001-2002: (32-4, 15-1), NCAA Champions
2002-2003: (21-10, 11-5), NCAA Sweet Sixteen
2003-2004: (20-12, 7-9), NCAA Second Round
2004-2005: (19-13, 7-9), NIT
2005-2006: (19-13, 8-8), NIT
2006-2007: (25-9, 10-6), NCAA Second Round
2007-2008: (19-15, 8-8), NIT
I don't have the Rivals' ratings for the national championship team, but Wilcox, Baxter, and Blake were pretty highly recruited. To be generous, I'll give Wilcox five stars for his freakish athleticism, Baxter four stars, and Blake four stars. I have no idea if these are true, but they seem fair. Dixon, though, was not highly recruited, and many basketball people thought he was too small and frail to succeed. They were wrong, but that's another story entirely.
So, by using those made-up (but fair) ratings for Wilcox, Baxter, and Blake, the Terps, including the championship year, have had two five-star recruits (Wilcox and Jones) and 11 four-star recruits (Blake, Baxter, Smith, Garrison, Ibekwe, Fofana, Gist, Vasquez, Hayes, Tucker, and Mosley). Keep in mind, these aren't some biased ratings by Maryland officials; these are actual ratings before players start their collegiate athletic careers. Anyway, of all of the players on the above rosters, only six were drafted by NBA teams: Wilcox, Dixon, Baxter, Blake, Strawberry, and Gist. None of them is a star, but Wilcox, Blake, and Dixon have had decent careers so far.
Maryland will never out-recruit UNC or Duke, yet they still do some damage with a handful of NBA role players and guys who eventually play overseas or not at all.
The point is this: Look at all of the highly rated recruits who did very little. Smith, Garrison, and Fofana were terrible. Mike Jones, who was ranked right behind LeBron James, was nowhere near a five-star talent. He was a great three-point shooter, but he basically didn't do much else. Ibekwe and Gist were solid players, but neither was a star. As for players on the team right now, Tucker doesn't seem to be anything but a role player, Hayes is a good shooter, and Vasquez has a strong all-around game but isn't a great shooter and gets reckless at times. And Mosley has played well for a freshman, but he seems to be the perfect example of the recent-but-flawed Maryland recruit: a player who hustles and fights the whole game, yet he's a shooting guard who can't shoot.
Williams is partially to blame for the failure of some of these recruits; it's his job to coach them up, right? But he couldn't/can't go out there and perform for them. Many of these recruits apparently had the talent and were rated accordingly; they just didn't get the job done.
Meanwhile, other "lesser" recruits like Dixon, Strawberry, Osby, and Milbourne have performed better than guys like Smith, Garrison, and Fofana. Sometimes the players really are to blame, and it's too much of a cop out to simply ridicule Williams when these players haven't lived up to their potential. If no recruits at all were going to Maryland, it would be one thing. But that hasn't been happening.
Besides the players and apparent recruiting woes, Williams has also lost three key assistant coaches who have (or held) head coaching jobs elsewhere: Dave Dickerson (Tulane), Billy Hahn (currently an assistant at WVU), and Jimmy Patsos (Loyala, MD). Those three helped Williams tremendously in recruiting, and their departures may be the biggest reason for the drop off in overall talent.
I was also going to argue about how moving into the Comcast Center hurt the team's overall play at home, but actually, it hasn't. The crowds may not seem to be as loud, and sometimes the stands don't appear to be packed because the crowd isn't on top of the floor like at Cole Field House, but since 2002, when the Terps moved in to Comcast, Williams and the Terps are 34-17 at home in ACC play. That's pretty good.
In my opinion, next season is going to be make-or-break for Williams. The Terps don't look like a team that's going to finish this season on a positive note, but I think he'll be given one more year to turn things around. Vasquez, Milbourne, and Hayes will all be seniors, and the only player the team will lose is Neal. Plus, Gregory should improve a little more, and the team also has two decent recruits coming in to add some size -- they're both over six-foot-seven.
But if Maryland performs poorly again, Williams could very well be on his way out. It's unfortunate, but how much longer can he really last with an athletic director that doesn't really want him to stick around?
Williams helped put Maryland basketball on the map again, at least for several years. It's just a shame that things appear to be headed down this ugly path.