Fundraising events can make for strange bedfellows, particularly when it comes to politics. But more than a few heads were turned, eyebrows were raised and stomachs were -- well, you get the picture -- when it was announced that former longtime rivals and now retired college basketball coaches Gary Williams and Jim Calhoun would be part of the same "Lunch with Legends" in New York City.
In town for a game Friday night between their two former teams at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., Williams and Calhoun broke only bread during a luncheon hosted by the Terrapin Club. Williams and Calhoun seem to have buried the proverbial hatchet in their well-publicized feud that flared up nearly a decade ago when the Terps and Huskies were both recruiting former Archbishop Spalding star Rudy Gay, who eventually chose Connecticut.
Back then, it reached a pretty nasty tipping point when Williams accused Calhoun of paying Gay’s Baltimore-based AAU team for scheduling an exhibition game with the Beltway Ballers, a team made up of Gay’s former AAU teammates. Gay was among several former Baltimore high school stars whose decision to reject the Terps for other high-profile programs led to Williams being criticized for his recruiting.
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Though neither mentioned the sniping that led to Williams saying at the time that he “wouldn’t pay $25,000” to help sway a recruit, they haven't exactly turned into golfing buddies in their respective retirements. When I mentioned to Calhoun after the luncheon how civil they were to each other, he immediately brought up the Baltimore Ballers and the fact that Williams “didn’t like to recruit.” He also said that Maryland had hosted a similar game when it was recruiting Nik Caner-Medley out of Calhoun’s New England backyard.
And, oh by the way, it wasn’t $25,000 that Calhoun paid to the Baltimore-based team.
“$27,000,” he said.
Though it wasn't considered an NCAA violation, the NCAA did ban the practice a couple of years later. Other allegations followed Calhoun toward the end of his career at Connecticut, and he was forced to sit out the first three Big East games of what turned out to be his final season at Connecticut after Yahoo Sports reported that the basketball program failed to comply with NCAA rules.
Calhoun, who retired amid health problems a little more than a year after winning his third national championship in 2011, spent much of a question-and-answer session Friday hosted by NBC Sports commentator Jimmy Roberts, a Maryland graduate, talking about how much respect he had for Williams. Calhoun put Williams in a pantheon that also included Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim.
Trying to make a point about how you don't have to be named Krzyzewski or Rick Pitino to win multiple titles, Calhoun happened to mention that the Huskies are the only program to have won three titles in the past 12 years.
Calhoun said that he liked the Huskies in Friday’s matchup, not just because he is still paid as a fund raiser and has strong ties to the school, but also because “I think their guards are going to be able to pressure Maryland with Seth Allen out.”
This marks Williams’ first time seeing the Terps in person since the 2011-12 season, when he came to Comcast Center the night the court was named in his honor during a game against Duke.
Williams said before his appearance at Cole Field House last month for Maryland Madness that he has purposely stayed away from College Park so as not to appear that he is looking over Mark Turgeon’s shoulder.
It’s also still difficult.
“It’s easier not to, for Mark and everyone involved,” Williams said.