Maryland basketball faces Wisconsin team in midst of coaching transition

Hall of Fame coach Gary Williams has a vivid memory of a road game the Maryland men's basketball team played against Wisconsin in the 2000 ACC-Big Ten Challenge. It is not of what happened during an overtime loss for the No. 13 Terps to the No. 3 Badgers, but what occurred shortly after the game ended.

As Williams was walking down a hallway in Milwaukee's Bradley Center that night, headed toward the post-game press conference, he recalled seeing Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett coming in his direction, wiping away tears and having a difficult time controlling his emotions.


"I'm thinking, 'We just lost and he's upset? I should be the one who's upset,'" Williams said recently. "When I went into the press conference, someone asked me what I thought about Dick's announcement. I asked them what happened. They told me he had just said he was retiring."

It is against a similar backdrop that No. 3 Maryland (14-1, 3-0) will visit the Kohl Center in Madison on Saturday. Just as those Badgers would make the transition from Bennett to Bo Ryan, these Badgers (9-7, 1-2) are in the process of rebuilding in the aftermath of Ryan's mid-season retirement last month.

Both resignations came a year after Wisconsin reached the Final Four.

The 2000-2001 team would finish 18-11 overall and lose in the opening round of the NCAA tournament to the Lefty Driesell-coached Georgia State, which then got bounced by Final Four-bound Maryland. Interim coach Brad Soderberg, who had played for and coached under Bennett, was replaced by Ryan after the season.

This year's team was 7-5 when athletic director Barry Alvarez said longtime assistant Greg Gard would take over for the remainder of the season. Already trying to replace four starters, including national player of the year Frank Kaminsky and star forward Sam Dekker, the freshman-heavy Badgers have split the four games they've played under Gard, including a 59-58 loss at Indiana on Tuesday.

"I think we've battled," Gard said Monday on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference. "I was pleased at how we played against Purdue [in a 59-55 loss] from an effort standpoint and an energy standpoint, how we competed. There are some things we need to get better at, especially defensively, and become more efficient offensively. We've become more and more consistent."

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon expects a hostile crowd given his team's high ranking and the return of Milwaukee native Diamond Stone, whom many Wisconsin fans thought was headed to Madison until the night last April when the nation's No. 2-rated high school center announced he would be coming to College Park.

"They've been in every game, they could've beaten Indiana, they could've beaten Purdue," Turgeon said Thursday. "They're playing better. Greg's done a great job with the team. They'll be excited. They've had an extra day to prepare. It's a tough turnaround for us. We expect to take everybody's best shot this year and we expect to get Wisconsin's best shot. I think we're starting to relish that and getting better in those situations."

One of the stark differences between Gard and his longtime mentor is using his freshmen. Given the number of first-year Badgers, it's partly by necessity.

"One of the first things I said to them was, 'If you're not ready, get ready,'" Gard said. "I just felt we needed to become deeper, I thought [Bronson] Koenig and [Nigel] Hayes were logging too many minutes. The guys are hungry and eager. We've got so many young guys that everything we're doing is new, not only for the returning guys with all the things we've changed, but also the new guys had to shift quickly."

One of the freshmen is former River Hill star Charlie Thomas IV. Expected to be something of a long-term project similar to Kaminsky and other big men who played under Ryan, Thomas had some promising performances early in the season. He finished with nine points, five rebounds and two blocked shots in 26 minutes of a one-point win over VCU, as well as nine points and six rebounds in 16 minutes in a rout of Temple.

In recent weeks, much like many of his teammates, Thomas has struggled. In six subsequent games, the 6-8, 245-pound forward has scored a total of 11 points on four of 16 shooting with 11 rebounds while averaging just over 10 minutes a game. He did not play against the Hoosiers, mainly because Indiana plays a guard-heavy lineup. He should play more against the Terps.

"Charlie's working exceptionally hard," Gard said. "For him, he's had a lot on his plate, he's handled it exceptionally well. I think his future is very bright here. I think he's just scratching the surface in terms of how good he can be. I know he's learning every day, he's hungry, he's been all eyes and ears, he's asking a lot of questions. Charlie's off to a good start."

Gard is well aware of another freshman the Badgers recruited — and lost — who is off to an even better start.


Asked if he was surprised how productive Stone has been for Maryland, particularly in his 39-point freshman school record performance against Penn State last week, Gard said, "No, because he's surrounded by a lot of good players. It's not just Diamond, it's not just Melo [Trimble], there's a lot of other players that are very good in that program."

Gard said the Terps remind him a bit of last year's Wisconsin team, which lost to Duke in the NCAA championship game. The one notable exception is Stone.

"It's an experienced team, it's a talented team, it's very similar to how ours was built last year," Gard said. "It took awhile for those things to come together and to come in and make a splash as a freshman, obviously he's very talented, there's no doubt. From that standpoint, it's not a surprise. He's had some ups and downs, but he's figured things out, which I thought he would. He's a quick learner and a hungry kid who wants to be good."


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