COLLEGE PARK - Jordan Williams, a 6-foot-10 power forward from Torrington, Conn., was intent on coming to Maryland. The recruit's parents liked the school, too.
But Leron and Dee Williams were hearing media reports about a rift between coach Gary Williams and athletic director Deborah Yow. They had heard the coach could soon be out.
So the couple went to Yow to determine what was going on. "The toughest part [of the rumors] is who is telling you the truth and how to sift through all this," Leron Williams said.
He said Yow told them Gary Williams would remain. To further assure them, Yow said she would put her claims in writing.
"It [the document] is just saying that Gary and her have a great working relationship and that she wants him there," Leron Williams said. "And it is releasing us [from our commitment] if Gary isn't there, which she doesn't foresee."
The family's concern illustrates how ta high-profile skirmish between a coach and an athletic department can rattle recruits and their families. On Feb. 2, Yow appeared with the coach to voice her support for him and try to end a war of words over why ex-recruits Gus Gilchrist and Tyree Evans didn't end up as Terrapins.
Despite what Yow called "crazy rumors" about the coach's job security, neither Williams nor fellow Terrapins recruit James Padgett say they have issues about coming to Maryland. Padgett heard the reports but said he was unconcerned about them.
Said Dee Williams: "When Jordan was looking at Maryland, it was [said] that Gary didn't have long to be there, that Gary would be fired if they didn't have a successful season. [Assistant] Coach [Chuck] Driesell gave us the athletic director's number, and my husband called her and talked to her."
Yow satisfied the couple's concerns about what they had heard on the Amateur Athletic Union circuit.
Both recruits and their families said the decision to attend Maryland - they signed in November - was made with Gary Williams firmly in mind.
"He's a guy able to develop bigs and have a winning program," said Padgett, a 6-8 power forward from Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Padgett and Jordan Williams are frequently brought up by Gary Williams when he talks about next season. Asked last month about Maryland's recruiting, the coach quickly replied: "Well, we signed two players that'll be in the top 50 in the country for next year, and I'm looking forward for those coming in here."
The coach has indicated that Maryland, which is undersized this season and struggling not to miss the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in five years, should be able to play a different style next year with Williams and Padgett.
Maryland is also recruiting Lance Stephenson, a high school teammate of Padgett's who visited College Park recently.
Neither Padgett not Jordan Williams has attracted nearly as much national attention as Stephenson, one of the top guard prospects in the nation.
Jordan Williams recently created Internet buzz when he followed a teammate's missed shot during a road game and dunked the ball so hard that the backboard shattered.
Watching from the stands, Dee Williams said, her first thought was: "Do we have to pay for that?"
Said Torrington coach Tony Turina: "They were just razzing him with 'What's a Terp?' They'd say that when he was at the foul line. He had 27 points at halftime, so he kept them quiet. And when he made the jam, he actually looked over [to the fans] like, 'That's a Terp!' "
Jordan's father, a Torrington assistant coach, said his son isn't ordinarily flashy. He and Jordan say they admire the unspectacular, workmanlike way in which NBA star Tim Duncan performs for the San Antonio Spurs.
But after the dunk, "I looked at the people in the crowd and, to a person, everyone stood up with their mouth open," the father said.
Some who have seen Williams and Padgett play say it would be unfair for fans to expect them to quickly become stars in the rugged Atlantic Coast Conference.
Of the two, Jordan Williams is more highly rated - owing largely to his performance with the New England Playaz AAU team over the summer.
He is ranked as the 99th top recruit by Scout.com. Padgett isn't in the top 100 but is No. 21 at the center position.
"Jordan Williams is a good prospect," said Dave Telep of Scout.com. "He's got great size. He was efficient around the hoop over the summer. He's an ACC-caliber post guy. But he's a late bloomer, and some patience is required of those guys. He's a young big guy who has a chance."
Williams said his choice came to Maryland or St. John's. He said he picked Maryland after attending a soccer game here against Wake Forest in September. He said he loved the fans' enthusiasm. "The atmosphere there was unbelievable. It was a downpour and the fans did not budge," he said.
He said he plans to attend his first Maryland basketball game tomorrow against No. 3 North Carolina.
Ed Generali, coach of rival Holy Cross High, which has beaten Torrington twice this season, said Williams "has great hands, a very soft touch and is playing on a team that is not as strong as it has been. We put two or three guys on Jordan."
Said Generali: "I see him needing to get stronger physically. Once Gary Williams gets ahold of him, he'll be spending a lot of time in the weight room."
Leron Williams agreed, saying his son "is able to finish and rebound in traffic, but right now he has a high school body."
At a fraction short of 6-10 and 245 pounds, Jordan Williams dwarfs many of the players guarding him in high school. "Probably some are 6-2 or 6-3," he said. "The biggest guy was 6-7. It's nowhere near the ACC. I want to lose some weight and gain some muscle."
His father said Jordan is coachable and understands he is facing a big adjustment playing in the ACC.
"I told him, 'You need to find your niche.' Everybody has a role. He may score, you never know. He may just be a rebounder. He may be a hustle guy. You never know," the father said.
NO. 3 UNC (23-2, 9-2) @ MARYLAND (16-9, 5-6)
Tomorrow, 3:30 p.m.
TV: Chs. 2, 7
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