At top, and not about to climb off


ATLANTA - From a few feet away, Kristin Scott was watching the celebration that swirled around her father late Monday night on the crowded court at the Georgia Dome. She had been part of it earlier, when Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams had brought his only child and her son, David, into the post-game television interview.

As she watched her father, 57, reach the pinnacle of his coaching career with Maryland's 64-52 victory over Indiana in the NCAA men's tournament final, Scott could only think of the three decades that had passed since he last coached a basketball team to an end-of-season championship.

"This all started at Woodrow Wilson High School in 1970," said Scott, who was born shortly after the first team Williams had ever coached won the New Jersey state championship with a 27-0 record. "This isn't just about this year's team. It's about all the Maryland alumni who've waited so long and all the players who have played for him."

With tears in her eyes, Scott smiled.

"If I were him," she said, "I would quit right now."

Whether Scott was displaying her father's dry sense of humor or she was serious, Williams has no plans of doing what the late Al McGuire did when he led Marquette to a national championship in Atlanta 25 years ago. McGuire simply walked away and turned himself into, among other things, a celebrity television analyst.

Williams was still a college assistant at the time and recalled being at that year's Final Four.

"If you want to pick a time to go, that wouldn't be bad. You won your last game; that's the best part," Williams said yesterday morning after receiving the Sears Trophy, which goes to college basketball's national champion.

"I would like to coach a long time. This is what I like to do. As long as I like coaching, the wins and losses are obviously a reward. As long as I like the practices and the teaching part, this is where I want to be."

Though Williams has been courted by other schools and has talked to an NBA team on at least one occasion several years ago, he expects to finish out his career at his alma mater. Currently at the end of his first year of a seven-year extension, Williams will likely have a contract that pays him about $1 million a season ripped up and renegotiated.

"That's to be expected," university president C.D. "Dan" Mote had said before Monday night's game. "No doubt there will be discussions. He's achieved at a new level."

The victory over the Hoosiers completed a long and sometimes bumpy road for Williams and the Terrapins. After coaching successfully at American, Boston College and Ohio State, Williams returned to Maryland in 1989 with the program about to be sanctioned by the NCAA for violations committed under Bob Wade.

"The program came a long ways," said Juan Dixon, the former Calvert Hall standout who became the most prolific scorer in Maryland history and the Most Outstanding Player in this year's Final Four. "They were in a lot of trouble. Coach came in and did a great job. We're one of the best programs in the country right now."

Assistant coach Dave Dickerson, who played for Wade and Lefty Driesell before returning to Maryland in 1996, knows how far the program had fallen by the time Williams had arrived. Coaching under Driesell at James Madison at the time, Dickerson watched things get worse before they eventually got better.

"I think Gary should be given a Purple Heart," said Dickerson, a teammate of Len Bias, the All-American who died of a cocaine overdose in June 1986. Dickerson completed his career as one of Wade's captains on a team that finished 9-20 overall and 1-13 in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1988-89. "The job he has done is mind-boggling."

At his post-game news conference, Williams credited many of his players from those early Maryland teams for helping keep the program competitive.

"Having played at Maryland, coming back at a time I hate to even think about, because there was so much mistrust, so much doubt about the place of the basketball program at the university," Williams recalled, "we had to work all those things out before we could even think about having a good basketball team.

"The guys who played, Walt Williams, people like that, during that time we had a lot of people keeping the crowd at Cole Field House, even though we couldn't participate in the NCAA tournament or be on television. I'll always remember those guys. ... I'm not sure we could have recovered if it weren't for the people involved back then."

Though he wasn't considered the most accomplished coach who had not won a national title - that distinction probably still belongs to either Roy Williams of Kansas or Eddie Sutton of Oklahoma State - Gary Williams had always been respected by his peers. Some believe Williams looked more relaxed after winning than he ever had before.

"I don't know about that. I don't know how people can tell you about me," he said. "I never coached with the idea that if you win a national championship, you would be considered a good coach. I know people certainly put a lot of value into that."

It had been a draining season for Williams, with more lofty expectations heaped on this team - and on him - than on any other he had coached. Two days before a telling victory over Duke in mid-February - a victory that seemed to legitimize Maryland as a title contender - Williams' father died at 85.

"My dad was not a big basketball fan. He grew up in a different time," Williams said yesterday. "I can remember he thought I was wasting a lot of time playing ball as a kid. I understand where he came from. I think he got a chance to watch a lot more games and become more interested as time went on."

As Williams gets older, the former boy-wonder coach approaching elder statesman status, some might think the natural thing would be for him to coast through the remainder of his career. But after chasing that elusive championship since his first season as a high school head coach, Williams said he doubts he will be any different come October.

"I hope I don't change," he said. "I just respect the business of coaching too much to say I can ease off a little bit now that we have won the national championship."

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