Williams gives Terps magical lift

COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland coach Gary Williams remembers the moment well.

The Terps were trailing Wake Forest by eight Saturday and he had just finished his halftime chat with the team.


As the Terps were heading out of the dressing room at Cole Field House, a certain 6-foot-8 junior point guard named Walt Williams tapped his coach on the shoulder and said that after sitting out five weeks and 11 games with a broken bone in his left leg, it was time.

Gary Williams was more than amenable to the suggestion.


"I felt all along that he had earned the right to make that call," said Gary Williams. "Whether it was the last home game or whatever, he's earned that right.

"It was just a matter of when Walt felt he was ready to play."

Walt Williams dressed for the first time since receiving medical clearance to play two weeks ago, but he hadn't told his coach before the game that he was ready to play. So the halftime notification was music to Gary Williams' ears.

"I felt better and I thought if I came in, it would give the team an emotional lift," Walt Williams said.

The coach motioned for Williams and reserve forward Evers Burns to go in with Maryland trailing 60-53 with over 13:30 left.

While they waited, Matt Roe hit a three-pointer to pull Maryland to within four, and when the next dead ball allowed for a substitution, the crowd of 12,719 roared its approval.

"I couldn't hear them," said Williams. "I can't hear anything when I'm on the court."

But his teammates did, and they used the crowd and the emotion of Williams' return to fuel their comeback.


"That may have been the greatest coaching move of all time," said Burns. "The crowd went crazy."

"I was really surprised to see him come out," said center Cedric Lewis, who had 12 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in his last game at home.

"I was hoping he'd play because it was the last home game. It was very emotional to see him coming out on the floor," Lewis said.

Although signs of rustiness and the effects of the injury were evident, Williams made three key baskets in the 86-78 victory that clinched a winning season for Maryland.

Afterward, Williams proclaimed himself happy with his effort, which yielded seven points and one rebound in 12 minutes.

"I've been practicing pretty well for a couple of weeks, so I wasn't surprised at all," said Williams. "I'm just glad to be back."



Late in the game, the crowd began chanting "Coach of the Year" at Gary Williams. Wake Forest coach Dave Odom, who had been mentioned for the honor, concurs.

"I don't know if there's a better coaching job in the country than what Gary Williams has done here," Odom said.

Maryland athletic director Andy Geiger said he will discuss the team's season with Williams after the closer Saturday at Virginia.

Among the topics of discussion will be an extension of Williams' contract, which runs for three more seasons after this year.