Nearly a quarter-century after he finished his Maryland career starring for a team not permitted to play in the NCAA tournament, Walt Williams will make his March Madness debut Friday in Spokane, Wash.
Part of the school's radio broadcast team for seven years, Williams will join legendary play-play announcer Johnny Holliday and longtime color analyst Chris Knoche when the No. 5 seeded Terps play No. 12 seed South Dakota State.
It will mark the first time Williams, now 45, has ever seen an NCAA tournament game in person.
Williams had just one chance to play in the NCAA tournament with the Terps. It was during his sophomore year when Maryland – led by fellow sophomore forward Jerrod Mustaf, senior forward Tony Massenburg and Williams – finished the regular season 18-13.
Right before the regular season ended, the NCAA announced that the Terps would be starting a three-year probation the following year that included a two-year postseason ban as well as a one-year live television ban.
Many thought Maryland wasn't selected for the tournament because the NCAA didn't want to chance the Terps being constantly asked about a probation that was compared to the SMU death penalty during the organization's marquee event.
"I always wondered what would have happened had we been given the opportunity to play," said Williams, who was one of five Terps to average in double figures in scoring (12.6 points per game), while also contributing 4.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game.
After the Terps lost in the second round of the NIT, Mustaf announced plans to turn pro and others, including point guard Teyon McCoy, tranferred. Massenburg graduated.
Williams was left as the team's star.
One of the schools Williams talked with about transferring to was UNLV, which won the NCAA tournament that season and went unbeaten the following season before losing to Duke in the semifinals.
"I entertained that thought, but I wanted to be a Terp," Williams said.
Often called the most important player of Gary Williams' early years because of his decision to stay -- he finished his career as the school's sixth-leading scorer after breaking Len Bias' single-season scoring record -- Walt Williams said Tuesday that he never had a "real desire" to see an NCAA tournament game in person.
He said it was partly because of "timing" in terms of his professional schedule, mostly due to conflicts during a 12-year NBA career as well as his family obligations in raising his two sons. It even carried into retirement when Williams joined the radio crew.
Even when the Terps made the last two trips to the NCAA tournament under Gary Williams in 2009 and 2010 -- the latter ending with a heartbreaking last-second loss to Michigan State, in Spokane -- as well as last season under Mark Turgeon, Walt Williams remained back in Maryland.
"Subliminally, maybe I just didn't want to go," he said.
After making his second trip to the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis last week, Holliday called Williams to see if he was interested in breaking his long NCAA drought. When Williams said he was, Holliday put in a call to athletic director Kevin Anderson.
Williams will fly to Spokane with the team on Wednesday.