He may not be the coach anymore, and he may be trying to step away, but despite his best efforts, Gary Williams is still very much at the center of Maryland basketball.
COLLEGE PARK, Md -- On a night when the Maryland Terrapins played hard but lost to their bitter rival, some smiles could still be found in the quiet hallways of Comcast Center after the game. Though Maryland lost 74-61 to the Duke Blue Devils, the honoring of retired coach Gary Williams throughout the game carried a meaning far beyond the final score.
Prior to tip-off, Williams spoke to the crowd of almost 18,000 before the unveiling of his name etched onto the Comcast Center court. Gary thanked the countless supporters of Maryland basketball that helped carry the team to hundreds of wins, banners and memories. The crowd roared back in applause, doing their best to thank Gary for everything he did for the basketball program and the university as a whole.
"Gary is really deserving of that," Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said after the game. "The only thing that could have been better is if we would have won."
The Terps could not pull off the upset, but the night still belonged to Gary. In remarks to reporters after the court ceremony, Williams explained that he was making an effort to stay away from the Maryland team this year. He wants new coach Mark Turgeon to find his own style, his own fit, without the imposing figure of the now-retired legendary coach looming around.
Turgeon does not see it like that. In post-game comments Turgeon explained that Williams is welcome at practice or games, and he appreciates all the positive words Williams has said about Turgeon both publicly and privately.
"I got all the respect in the world for him," Turgeon said of his predecessor. "I wish we could have won for him."
Golf and television work for the Big Ten Network keep Williams busy these days, but the passion for Maryland basketball remains. He said that he has dreams of creating a Maryland Basketball Hall of Fame in venerable Cole Field House and continuing to work with Anderson and Turgeon to promote Maryland athletics.
Anderson hosted Williams in his suite, and he said that Williams remained calm for much of the game, unlike his on-court demeanor. The athletic director could not help but laugh as he explained that Williams joked with ACC commissioner John Swofford about how he could now freely complain about any questionable officiating without fear of being fined.
Williams' dry sense of humor remains sharp. He had reporters laughing as he described giving his famous fist pump as he walked out to the court before the ceremony. He said then that it may not have been his best fist-pumping effort. Known for his intensity in his coaching career, it appears Williams has relaxed away from coaching.
"It was great," Williams said of the fist-pump. "It was great to do it one more time. That's the last time."
Terps players understood the magnitude of the night. Pe'Shon Howard and Ashton Pankey both said how intense the crowd was coming off the emotional pre-game ceremony. Pankey reflected on what it meant to be recruited by Williams and what it means now to play on Gary Williams Court.
"It's really an honor," Pankey said, calling Williams a Hall of Fame coach. "It's an honor that he recruited me. He gave me a scholarship to play for him. It's just an honor to be playing on Gary Williams Court. It's a tribute to him. He's a great coach."
Unfortunately for Pankey, injuries prevented him from ever playing with Williams on the bench. That was not the case for senior Sean Mosley, the lone Terps player on the current roster to play in the NCAA tournament under Williams.
"Its a great honor," Mosley said after the game. "I played for Coach Williams for three years."
Players wore specially-designed Under Armour sneakers with Gary Williams signatures for the game. After the game, with just family and friends waiting for him, Mosley walked around with his pair of Gary Williams tribute sneakers tucked tight under his arm. Asked his plans for the shoes, Mosley said he would never wear them again, but that he was going to keep them. For Mosley, those sneakers will remind him of the special coach that he played under for three years.
For the rest of us, now we can always look to the court at Comcast Center. Gary Williams Court.