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The Baltimore Sun

The good news is that no matter how many ways you dissect it, Gus Gilchrist's transferring out of Maryland before ever playing a game cannot be filed under S, for "Stuff Gary Williams Has Done to Wreck the Program."

This can't, shouldn't, reflect on him, even if it piles on one of the more miserable springs he has experienced in College Park. Try to use it to fuel the fire raging in some quarters against Williams, and you'll come up dry.

Yeah. That's the good news. Too bad it can't overshadow the bad news. All it does is confine it to the boundaries of the basketball court.

Ironically, that's where Williams' fate, and the story of this segment of his coaching career, will ultimately be determined. Everything that has happened, from commitments reneging to controversial recruits to lousy academic reports, is viewed through one prism and one only: three whiffs on the NCAA tournament in four years.

Unless last year's youngsters make a titanic leap, it's going to be four in five years. Two weeks ago, before Tyree Evans withdrew, Maryland still had a solid three-man incoming class, and it's now down to one, St. Frances' Sean Mosley, who has yet to officially gain school and NCAA approval for admission. Whether Mosley gets in or not, though, Gilchrist was the gem, the difference-maker.

But laying it at the feet of the already embattled Williams is wrong, and so is the notion that putting this on top of everything else lately completes a picture of a coach steering a program toward ruin.

"As soon as people hear 'transfer,' they have negative thoughts about what's going on," Williams said yesterday, sighing during a brief phone conversation from his office on campus.

Although transfers are a routine and accepted part of the game, Williams said, "I guess it's different when it's Maryland."

More likely, he was reminded, the situation is viewed differently when it involves a team that has fallen short so many times since the national title in 2002, has had its past academic struggles put on display and has gone through the aborted recruitment of Evans and his troubled past.

Williams' response was familiar: his resume, including, he pointed out, the trip to the second round of the NCAAs two years ago and the win over then-No. 1 North Carolina last season.

"I understand it. You're supposed to be good every year," he said. "[But] that's all I can do. I can present what we've done." That includes all three seniors from the past season graduating and the lone senior for the coming season, Dave Neal, on pace to graduate on time next year - all confirmed by school officials and all due to vastly improve the sorry graduation-rate and academic progress rate numbers of recent cycles.

Still, it was easy for the weary Terps faithful to jump to conclusions as news trickled out Tuesday afternoon. The kid, again, hadn't done anything beyond practicing with the team - what in the world happened? Which quickly expanded to: What did Gary do this time? What on Earth is going on over there?

The only thing going on this time is a player wringing as much eligibility as possible out of his career. The Atlantic Coast Conference denied his, and the school's, request for that extra year, and denied the appeal. As it turns out, Maryland offered to let him delay his debut an extra semester, until fall 2009, to give him three full seasons instead of 2 1/2 . He passed, taking his chances with the NCAA to waive its transfer rules and get him four full years to play.

That shouldn't necessarily reflect poorly on Gilchrist, either, by the way - as shaky as it might look for him to be headed for a third school already and to see him sit two full years. He leaves Maryland in good academic standing and on good terms with everybody there, including his now-former coach.

"He's a good kid. I think he'll be a good player," Williams said. "He just thought he might be able to be a four-year player here, and when he found out he couldn't, he and his people made their decision. We all wish him the best."

There are a couple of hundred worse outcomes than this one, for players and schools, in the generally unsavory world of big-time basketball.

Yet in the end, it brings everybody back to the one outcome that truly matters. In the public's mind, graduation rates, transfers and special admissions are mere kindling. The root cause of the blaze? Another NIT trip.

Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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