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Gary Williams deserves Naismith Hall of Fame induction, friends and ex-colleagues say

BasketballCollege BasketballCollege SportsMaryland TerrapinsGary WilliamsOhio State Buckeyes

Dave Dickerson hasn't checked the resumes and accomplishments of all the college basketball coaches in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, yet the former Maryland assistant coach and player knows something about one who is on the brink of induction.

Gary Williams, 69, is expected to be announced Monday as a member of the 2014 class, and he will be inducted in August. Multiple media outlets reported Saturday that Williams, who has declined comment, had become a first-ballot selection.

Dickerson believes that what Williams did in 33 years of coaching, the last 22 in College Park, goes beyond the 668 games his teams won. It also goes beyond leading the Terps to 11 straight NCAA tournaments, and the program's only two Final Fours, or even winning a national championship in 2002.

Dickerson, who graduated from Maryland a month after Williams was named to replace Bob Wade in 1989, said Sunday that few college coaches — and likely no Hall of Famers — had to rebuild a program in the manner that Williams did after inheriting a team about to be hit with one of the toughest sanctions in NCAA history.

"Find any [Hall of Fame] coach who did what he did at a university and had the start that he had," said Dickerson, who is now Ohio State's associate head coach. "Maryland was as low as it possibly could be and as broken as a university as you'd ever want to get.

"Not only did he withstand that, but he won at a high level, back-to-back Final Fours and a national championship, and he would've won a second straight national championship if Chris Wilcox had come back to school [in 2002-03]."

Dickerson, who returned as an assistant coach in 1996 and worked under Williams until becoming head coach at Tulane in 2005, said he recalled another Division I coach scoffing at Maryland's 1960s-style flex offense in an era when most teams took more of a freestyle approach, if not pure run-and-gun.

"I remember on our first run to the Final Four in '01, some coach said, 'The way Gary's teams played and the [flex] offense he ran, you can't win at a high level with that offense,' " Dickerson said. "He did it his way, he did it with his system, and if he had the right kids with the right approach, his team was always going to win at a high level, most of the time."

Kristin Scott said Sunday that her father always took pride in the fact that he won with players who were not as highly recruited as others in the respective leagues in which he coached — the Atlantic Coast Conference at Maryland, the Big Ten at Ohio State and the Big East at Boston College.

"He always was us-against-the-world with his players, with his teams," Scott said.

Scott said her father's retirement after the 2010-11 season came when he concluded that the kind of players he liked to coach were getting more difficult to find.

If Williams had been concerned about pushing his career wins above 700 — typically a demarcation line between those in the Hall of Fame and those not — he would have kept coaching, his daughter said.

"He never wanted to cheat the game of basketball, which is why I think he stepped down when he did. He could walk away with his head up high," Scott said. "He always tried to do it, in his opinion, the right way — good players who were good people who he thought he could make into great players."

Scott called her father's impending induction, "the big bow on the present, the cherry on the sundae."

Keith Neff, a Maryland graduate and a close friend of Williams for more than two decades, said he witnessed first-hand the respect other big-name coaches had for Williams.

"John Wooden, Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski], Roy Williams — they all went out of their way to comment on how good a coach our school had," said Neff, a former president of the Terrapin Club of Baltimore City.

One such occasion came when the legendary Dean Smith invited Williams to come down to Chapel Hill, N.C., with a couple of friends to play golf at the Governors Club. It was early in Williams' tenure at Maryland, when Smith was still coaching.

"I got to spend 10 hours with Dean Smith and Gary Williams," Neff said. "And the accolades that Dean directed to Gary were moving, awesome. He admired him as a coach in a big-time way."

Neff, a member of the same North Carolina golf club where Roy Williams plays, said the current Tar Heels coach, "makes comments every time I see him on a what good a coach Gary is, and was, and how much he's missed."

Dickerson said: "As far as his coaching ability, I always thought he taught his system better than anybody else taught their system. That is what set him apart when he didn't have the great players, the one-and-dones. That's why he didn't have to play the games in the grass-roots areas [of Amateur Athletic Union basketball]."

What Dickerson and others have said about Williams for a long time appears on the verge of being validated by his selection to the Hall of Fame.

"I've always said that he's a legend, and he's a legend now," Dickerson said.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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BasketballCollege BasketballCollege SportsMaryland TerrapinsGary WilliamsOhio State Buckeyes
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