Williams fanning emotions

The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK -The chants began before the Miami game Jan. 31. "We love Gary," fans at Comcast Center shouted. "Gary, Gary, Gary."

Maryland coach Gary Williams has long had a sizable fan base. Since the coach's highly publicized infighting with the athletic department last month over two former recruits, his supporters - as well as his critics - have grown increasingly vocal in public forums such as message groups, blogs and talk radio.

Today's Virginia Tech game presents another opportunity for fans to vent - louder than usual - their strongly held feelings about the coach. Some plan to wear T-shirts to the game in a show of support for Williams, who is in his 20th season leading Maryland. A handful of supporters brought homemade signs to the Miami game - the first since the war of words over ex-recruits Gus Gilchrist and Tyree Evans became a spectacle.

Williams, whose Terrapins won the 2002 national championship but risk missing the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in five seasons, enjoys the support of many athletic department donors - especially those involved with the program the longest. But the team's decline since the title season has led many fans to question his recruiting efforts.

Williams and athletic director Debbie Yow sparred last year over the recruitment of Evans, a community college player with a troubled past. Yow told The Sun she didn't know - at least until late in the process - that Williams was recruiting Evans, whose background includes misdemeanors for marijuana possession and a prep school assault.

Tensions surfaced again in January after Williams said "it wasn't my fault" that Evans and Gilchrist didn't end up playing at Maryland - a statement immediately challenged by the athletic department.

With donors expressing concern about the bickering, Yow and Williams considered having a meeting to discuss any lingering issues, a source told The Baltimore Sun. Yow was just returning from funeral services for her late sister, Kay, the former North Carolina State women's basketball coach.

But the meeting never materialized. Instead, Yow showed up at Williams' regularly scheduled media session Feb. 2 and publicly expressed her support for the coach.

"He and I communicate regularly," said Yow, who seemed eager to end the matter.

Yow said yesterday in an e-mail that it's "pretty much business as usual here."

Many Maryland fans say they hope the infighting and debate over Williams' future is indeed coming to an end.

"It doesn't seem like there's much in the middle," said Fabian Jimenez, a Maryland supporter who believes Williams has earned the right to remain at the school.

"There is a very strong, vocal contingent who is pro-Gary, and there is a very strong, vocal contingent who is anti-Gary. It's kind of sad to see how polarizing it has become. It's embarrassing to see the discord."

Maryland said Williams would field media questions yesterday only about his team and its coming game.

Williams' Terrapins have been hampered this season by inconsistent shooting and a lack of size.

At 4-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and 15-8 overall, Maryland would need a remarkable run to make the NCAA tournament. Today's opponent, Virginia Tech, is 6-3 in the conference and 16-7 overall after winning its past two games.

The Terps have games remaining against North Carolina, Duke and Clemson - the teams with the best records in the ACC.

An 8-8 conference mark might not be good enough to qualify for the tournament this season.

"Eight and eight is pretty iffy," said Jerry Palm, owner of the CollegeRPI.com Web site. "It depends on who they beat to get there. They'd need to make some noise in the conference tournament, as well."

Williams said he didn't know what record would win him a spot in the NCAA tournament.

"If you win enough, you get in," he said.

today's game

What to watch for

Can the Terps contain 6-foot-7 forward Jeff Allen, who is averaging 8.8 rebounds - third in the Atlantic Coast Conference? Maryland has trouble against good rebounders.

Key matchup

Guard Malcolm Delaney (Towson Catholic) versus Maryland's defense. He is averaging 25 points over the past five games.

What it means

Maryland needs this one considering what's ahead: Clemson, North Carolina and Duke.

VIRGINIA TECH (16-7, 6-3) @MARYLAND (15-8, 4-5)

Today, 4 p.m.

TV: Chs. 54, 5

Radio: 1300 AM, 105.7 FM

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