Naming court after Gary Williams is no slam dunk

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Gary Williams is the winningest coach in Maryland basketball history, but some feel it would be unfair to Lefty Driesell and current women's coach Brenda Frese to name the court at Comcast Center after him.

COLLEGE PARK — — Long before Gary Williams pumped his fist for the last time at Comcast Center before retiring, there were efforts underway to name the arena's basketball court after the coach who won a school-record 461 Maryland men's basketball games.

Four months after a tearful Williams stepped down, the proposal still has momentum and the support of athletic directorKevin Anderson.

But the "Gary Williams Court" — if that's what it is to be called — is not here just yet.

The intense, animated Williams has long generated a wide range of powerful responses from the university community and beyond. The passionate reactions to Williams haven't cooled even after his retirement.

Williams' supporters often use the word "icon" to describe him. "Gary has been an iconic figure both in Maryland basketball and in the university," said longtime Terrapin Club member and Williams backer Barry DesRoches.

"It should be done," DesRoches said of naming the court for the coach — an honor bestowed upon former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins and former Arizona coach Lute Olson and his late wife, among others.

Those who question putting Williams' name on the court appear to be a small but potent minority. They argue that such a move could be unfair to other such as the retired coach Lefty Driesell, who was 348-159 in 18 Maryland seasons, and current women's basketball coach Brenda Frese, who — like Williams — won a national championship. Some say Maryland, eager for more athletic revenue in this difficult economy, should sell the court's naming rights to a corporate sponsor.

There is an odd dynamic to the debate. Much of the chatter about Williams during his 22-year Maryland career — about his coaching, his recruiting, his intensity — was public.

But the current conversation is largely below the radar. Most of the naming proposal's critics — perhaps reflecting the issue's personal nature and sensitivity — have declined to be publicly named.

Among the few who have openly questioned the proposal is local sports commentator Stan "The Fan" Charles, who wrote in a column in May that Maryland basketball under Driesell "was one of the top 10 programs in America from 1969-1985" and that naming the court for Williams "may be a bit premature."

Williams, who declined comment, was 461-252 at Maryland and won the 2002 national championship. His players' graduation rates, once the lowest in the Atlantic Coast Conference, had improved in recent years.

Reached at his Virginia home, Driesell declined to address the issue. University System of Maryland Chancellor William "Brit" Kirwan and Anderson also declined comment. University president Wallace Loh was not immediately available.

The Board of Regents could consider the topic at its meeting Friday. While the issue does not appear on the public agenda, the board is scheduled to meet privately in executive session, and officials declined to disclose whether the matter will be addressed.

Former congressman and Board of Regents member Tom McMillen, who starred in basketball under Driesell, said: "I've known Gary since 1963. Clearly Gary needs to be recognized for his service. I think the board just needs to hear all the arguments. I've heard pros and cons."

Among the board's policies is that no building, campus facility or academic program is be named for "individuals currently employed by the University of Maryland System or the State of Maryland." Williams remains under contract as a special athletics department assistant.

Williams' supporters said they didn't think a basketball court would be included in the naming restrictions.