On Maryland men's basketball

The Baltimore Sun

CHARLOTTE, N.C.-- --Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams isn't going anywhere, so I'm not sure it's worth the wasted breath debating his job status. Rest assured, despite some angry murmuring from all corners of the vast and despondent nation of Terps' fans, the right man is still at the helm.

Another early exit this week from the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament likely means the Terps are relegated to the National Invitation Tournament for the third time in four years.

Despite this sad fact, it's worth remembering that Williams already knows what it's like to develop a winning program from nothing, and he can do it again. But there's work to be done, and the effort put forth in recent years will simply not be enough to return Maryland basketball to the ACC's top tier.

The main problem ailing the Terps in recent years is no secret. The quality of recruits has been suspect, and as good an X's and O's coach as Williams is, you can't take any schlub from the gym and turn him into Juan Dixon. Seeking out the right prospects takes time and effort.

You can certainly rely on personal observations to deduce that the talent level has been deficient. It's tougher, though, to quantify exactly where and how Williams and his staff might have been lacking on the recruiting trail. But let's try.

In the 2004-05 school year, the Terps spent $83,164 on recruiting. That figure is nearly $20,000 less than any other ACC school - at least the conference's public schools, the ones for which budget numbers are made available. For the sake of comparison, Georgia Tech spent $183,621 that year; Virginia Tech spent $187,807. Those two schools have men's programs that produce half the revenue Maryland's does.

Actually, let's frame it this way: In that school year, Williams spent $83,164 on recruiting, while Brenda Frese, coach of Maryland's women's program, spent $122,927.

All of these figures have been filed with the NCAA, and eight of the 12 ACC schools' numbers became available through public records requests. A database from the 2004-05 figures is maintained on the Indianapolis Star's Web site.

Maryland was the only men's program in the ACC to spend less than $100,000 on recruiting. To make sure the 2004-05 school year wasn't an anomaly, I checked the Terps' recruiting numbers for the next school year as well. In 2005-06, Williams' staff actually spent less money on recruiting - $73,907 - than the previous year, even as the program's total revenue increased by $650,000. (For what it's worth, Frese also spent slightly less in 2005-06 - $118,608.)

It's probably time for disclaimers.

The comparisons between schools are not exact. Programs slide different expenditures into different categories. But generally speaking, it's clear Maryland invested much less money in recruiting than other conference coaches.

Also, it's important to note that dollars don't cleanly translate into better recruits, especially for Williams. It would be a fallacy to think that any college team can simply spend its way toward better talent (unless you want to be cynical about some of the nation's top programs, but let's save that conversation for another day).

Williams doesn't generally compete against the Dukes and North Carolinas of the college world for the proverbial blue-chipper, and his best success generally comes from unearthing that diamond in the rough, the player who others overlook but who happens to be a perfect fit for Williams' system. The thing about those players, though, is that they are actually harder to find than the blue-chipper. It requires more effort, time and energy - which is exactly why a cursory glance at budget numbers illustrates part of the program's shortcomings.

A dollar figure doesn't tell you how a coach sells his program. It doesn't tell you about a campus visit, a phone call to a kid or a conversation with a mom. Unless you're intimately involved in the process, it's impossible to gauge how intense the recruitment of a talented teenager can be.

But those dollar figures do provide a peephole view into the plane tickets, basketball camps, nights spent in a hotel and days spent in a rental car. The money reflects effort and time as much as anything.

No one's suggesting throwing money around. But as much time and energy as Williams puts into games and practices - and even at 63, it's still more than 99 percent of college coaches - he needs to find a way to match that effort on the recruiting trail.

Judging the future of Maryland basketball is difficult, given the youth of this year's squad. As Williams quickly pointed out Thursday night, 10 of this year's 14 players were either freshmen or sophomores. But as we all know, youth alone isn't promise. A coach needs the right types of players, and maybe - just maybe - Williams is on the verge of finding them again.

While some might see the team's NIT frequent-visitor card as a detriment, it could force Williams to beat the bushes harder; it might mean that he again finds the player overlooked by others but suited perfectly for Maryland.

He built the program once that way. Now he must show that he's willing to do it again.


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