COLLEGE PARK - Some college basketball coaches are born recruiters - charming, sociable and quick to embrace the sales pitches that are a necessary component of their jobs.
Maryland's Gary Williams doesn't fit that mold. In his 20 seasons at the school, Williams has built his reputation less on recruiting and more on taking moderately talented players or hidden gems and polishing their skills. He has relied heavily on his assistant coaches to evaluate and recruit, according to a handful of people familiar with Maryland's program, including former assistants.
Williams' system produced results: 11 consecutive NCAA tournament bids and a 2001 Final Four appearance, followed the next season by a national championship. But with Maryland at risk of missing the tournament for the fourth time in five seasons, experts wonder whether the system needs tinkering - and whether the coach needs to be more prominent on the recruiting trail.
Maryland (13-7, 2-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), which hosts Miami tonight, has particularly struggled to attract top-25 players, who often require more attention and pampering than the rest.
Len Elmore, an ESPN commentator, attorney and former Maryland star, said he has little doubt that Williams' approach can still work. He suggested that Williams could find another Juan Dixon, a rugged guard from Baltimore who redshirted his freshman year before becoming a star on the championship team.
But Elmore also said "times have changed."
"A lot of [Williams' players] weren't highly recruited. They just turned out to be pretty darned good players. Gary had success doing it his way," Elmore said.
He continued: "It's a changing time, and this generation now really wants to have the impact of seeing the top man."
Said former Maryland star Tom McMillen: "I think Gary understands he needs to recruit because everybody else is recruiting. I think Gary can be a good recruiter if he sets his mind to it."
McMillen said the successful recruitment of forwards Jordan Williams from Torrington, Conn., and James Padgett from Brooklyn, N.Y., "must be a testament to something on the recruiting side."
Gary Williams announced during his media session yesterday that Jordan Williams, 6 feet 10, was nominated - along with 1,499 others - for the McDonald's All-America team.
The coach didn't respond to written questions yesterday submitted by The Baltimore Sun for this article about high-maintenance recruits and his recruiting profile.
"Gary isn't going to grant your interview request," athletics spokesman Doug Dull said.
Williams defended his recruiting Monday, saying, "We signed two players [Williams and Padgett] that will be in the top 50 in the country for next year." The coach lamented that several recruited players - South Florida's Gus Gilchrist, Kent State's Tyree Evans and Villanova's Shane Clark - didn't end up at Maryland.
His comments - "It wasn't my fault that they're not here" - began a back and forth in the media between Williams and the athletic department over the players. The coach indicated at yesterday's media session that he wouldn't discuss recruiting. "I'm just talking about Miami and my team for the rest of the year," he said.
Maryland's incoming class this season included Sean Mosley (St. Frances), a promising guard averaging 4.7 points who is known for tough defense and rebounding in addition to scoring.
The program has missed out on other area players for various reasons.
DaJuan Summers (McDonogh) said he picked Georgetown several years ago because of a natural connection with Hoyas coach John Thompson III. Roger Mason, from Good Counsel in Montgomery County, who played at Virginia and is now in the NBA, said Maryland didn't recruit him early or aggressively enough.
Many players get to know their future college coaches and assistants through high school and Amateur Athletic Union programs.
Fans are quick to note that many top players who didn't attend Maryland are from the Baltimore-Washington corridor - notably current NBA stars Carmelo Anthony (Towson Catholic) and Rudy Gay (Archbishop Spalding), as well as younger NBA players Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant.
Former Maryland assistant Billy Hahn said recruiting is too complicated to blame Williams during down periods.
"It's never one person that recruits a kid. The staff recruits a kid. The university recruits a kid. The professor recruits a kid," said Hahn, now a West Virginia assistant.
Hahn, Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos and Tulane coach Dave Dickerson all were assistants at Maryland who once provided Williams' program with stability and contacts before moving on.
"I know in his great teams he had assistants that developed strong bonds with kids," Elmore said.
What to watch for
Maryland's guards desperately need to shoot better. Eric Hayes in particular is in a slump. Can they break out? This could be a redemption game for the Terps, who led by 17 before losing to the Hurricanes, 62-60, on Jan. 14.
Guard Jack McClinton (Calvert Hall) against Maryland's defense. McClinton leads the Atlantic Coast Conference in career three-point field-goal percentage at .438.
What it means
The clock is ticking on Maryland, which has lost four of five and needs to right itself soon or miss the NCAA tournament again.
MIAMI (14-6, 3-4 ACC) @MARYLAND (13-7, 2-4)
TV: Chs. 54, 20
Radio: 1300 AM, 105.7 FM
Line: Maryland by 2