Q&A with Maryland basketball beat writer Jeff Barker

Each Tuesday we'll bring you a Q&A with one of the Sun's beat writers. Today we pick the brain of Jeff Barker, who covers Maryland sports.
Q: Before jumping into sports, you spent a lot of time covering politics. Did this Terps' season feel at all like covering a campaign? Was it like a campaign off its tracks or did you sense the coach and players never lost sight of where there’d be in March?
A: First of all, college basketball is way more like politics than I imagined. Just like politicians, big-program coaches must involve themselves in fundraising meet and greets. Gary Williams may appear maniacal on the bench but I hear he’s pretty good with the big donors.

Maryland’s “campaign” was hardly smooth. With the 41-point catastrophe at Cameron and the rumors at that time about Gary’s job security, I don’t think we knew where the Terps headed. But they righted themselves.

Q: Does Gary Williams remind you of any politicians? Seems like a bit of a straight talker, doesn't he?
A: He’s too blunt to be a politician. And I mean that as a compliment. I covered John McCain and he could be candid, too. But he didn’t curse as much in public places.
Q: Let's talk Greivis Vasquez for a second. Why does he say crazy things at inopportune times? And do you think his comments actually affect games?
Q: Gary keeps insisting the cultural barrier makes it difficult for Greivis to express himself or for us to understand him (I'm not sure which Gary is contending). Are you culturally insensitive, Jeff?
Q: Do you have a gut feeling on whether Greivis will be playing for the Terps next season?

A: Only that usually when players explore whether to leave, they actually do leave. The problem is that Greivis doesn’t know exactly which recruits are coming to Maryland so he can’t gauge exactly what type of team he’d return to.

Q: Anything new on Lance Stephenson. How crucial is it that the Terps land him for next season? Is he the real deal?

A: He is supposed to announce his choice  April 1  at the McDonald’s All-American Game in Miami. Maryland, Kansas and St. John’s are said to be the finalists. I think he is the real deal of the one-and-done variety.

Q: For reporters, every locker room has a go-to quote guy. Which Terp was the best to talk to and why?
A: 1) Greivis, 2) Greivis, 3) Greivis. Need I continue? I pulled up this quote from when Maryland lost to American two seasons ago: “It’s like a cancer on the team that's beating us and we haven't found the medicine, the cure to beat it. I think our intensity level is pathetic. We just stink right now. We're just not good."
Q: This was your first season in College Park. Kind of a trial by fire, I suppose. What surprised you most? What challenges didn't you expect?
A: There was more infighting within the athletic department than I expected. Also, it took all of the media by surprise when Maryland announced at halftime of the Virginia Tech game  (how is that for timing?)  that it was closing the locker room at the end of games. The school made a limited number of players -- typically those who played the biggest parts in the game -- available in the media workroom. This was too bad. The old way allowed reporters to interview the key guys -- but also any number of players who might not have starred but still could offer valuable perspectives. The previous system also made it easier to get to know the players one-on-one.
Q: You've had an opportunity to visit many of the ACC cities. Where does College Park rank? Is there anything to do there once you leave campus?
A: Let me be diplomatic and say that it's a positive thing that the university and others are involved in a redevelopment of College Park. I'm still learning my ACC cities. Enjoyed Charlottesville. Happy to have Boston in the ACC fold, although it seems a little out of place in a mostly southern-flavored conference that otherwise serves sweet tea and barbecue to reporters at halftime.
Q: It seems Gary's no longer on the hot seat. I don't know, maybe he's on the comfortably warm seat now. Is everything stable now? Should Terps fans expect next year's team to be as good, or maybe better?
A: I think Gary weathered the storm. As for the Terps, it's all so uncertain. Will Lance arrive? Will Greivis depart? At least the team will have more height next season. I'll close with this profound thought: In basketball, height is good.
You can follow Barker's thoughts on Maryland sports by visiting his Tracking the Terps blog.

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