All Gary Williams ever dreamed of being was a high school basketball coach. After graduating from Maryland in 1968, Williams thought his dream had come true when he became the junior varsity and, later, varsity coach at Woodrow Wilson High in Camden, N.J.
The dream eventually grew, as did Williams' stature as a coach, over the next four decades. More than two years after he retired from a coaching career highlighted by Maryland's first national title, Williams was nominated Friday for basketball's highest individual honor: induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
"When you're coaching, you never think about things like this," Williams said in a telephone interview Friday night, a few hours after learning of the nomination while working at Comcast SportsNet in Bethesda. "There was always the next game or the next recruit or whatever."
Williams, who turns 69 next month, is one of eight finalists to be nominated by the North American Committee. Two other longtime college coaches, Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson, were also nominated.
This year's class will be announced before the men's NCAA championship game in April; the class will be inducted in Springfield, Mass., this summer.
"Naturally, everyone wants to be in the Hall of Fame, but whatever people feel about me, that's what they're going to do," Williams said. "There's some really good people nominated that didn't get it. To be nominated is such a great thing in my mind, anyway. I can really enjoy the fact that I was nominated."
Williams would be Maryland's first representative in the Hall of Fame. Former Terps coach Lefty Driesell is a two-time finalist, but not since 2003.
"I am so happy" for Williams, former Terps star Juan Dixon said in a statement released by the athletic department Friday night. "He turned around a program and led us to a national championship. Coach is a great motivator, my mentor, teacher and most importantly a father figure. I know this is a dream come true and is very well deserved for someone who gave so much to the game of basketball."
Said third-year Maryland coach Mark Turgeon: "This is a tremendous and very well-deserved honor. Gary's record speaks for itself. He won a national championship, and in my mind, he is a Hall of Famer. This is a great day for Gary and the University of Maryland."
Williams' teams in College Park went 461-252 over 22 seasons. He had just two losing record at Maryland, both coming while the Terps were on probation for NCAA violations committed under his predecessor, Bob Wade.
In 33 seasons as a Division I head coach, which also included stops at American, Boston College and Ohio State, Williams' teams had an overall record of 668-380. He took the Terps to the NCAA tournament 11 straight years beginning in 1993-94, reaching the Sweet 16 five times.
Along with the 2002 national championship victory over Indiana, Williams led the Terps to the school's first Final Four appearance the previous year, losing to Duke in the semifinals at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
The year before he retired, Williams took the Terps to the second round of the NCAA tournament, where they lost on a buzzer beater to Michigan State. Maryland also won the 2004 ACC tournament, only the third in school history.
"We are very excited and proud that Gary Williams was named a finalist for the Naismith Hall of Fame," Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said in a statement. "For all of his significant accomplishments, Gary deserves to be recognized along side the greatest contributors to the game of basketball. We are confident that all of Terp Nation will be able to celebrate with Gary in Springfield."
Among Williams' other career coaching highlights was leading Woodrow Wilson High to the New Jersey State title in 1972.
Williams credits two former Maryland assistant coaches, Tom Young and Tom Davis, for helping him get into college coaching. Davis hired Williams as an assistant coach at Lafayette, where he also helped coach the soccer team.
"You have to get a break," Williams said. "I wasn't part of the Five-Star [Basketball Camp] thing that was really big back then in helping guys get jobs. Without the boost from Tom Davis, I would have been a high school coach, and that would have been fine."