COLLEGE PARK, Md. — All the hard work and yes, sweat, was worth it for Gary Williams.
Williams will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday in Springfield, Massachusetts. It is an achievement the coach does not take lightly.
“Winning the national championship at Maryland and getting into the Hall of Fame, those two things are the highlights of my career,” Williams said in a telephone interview. “The Hall of Fame is special because it’s somebody else validating what you did. It’s the top honor in basketball.”
To be elected, finalists required 18 of 24 votes from the Honors Committee. Joining Williams for induction in the Class of 2014 are: Immaculata University’s AIAW national championship teams of the early 1970s, Alonzo Mourning, Nolan Richardson, Mitch Richmond, Bob Leonard, Nat Clifton, Sarunas Marciulionis, Guy Rodgers and David Stern.
Now 69, Williams enjoyed success coaching at the high school level in his native New Jersey before working at American University, Boston College and Ohio State. His final move was returning to his alma mater, Maryland, in 1989.
“I had a really good job at Ohio State, but Maryland gave me my education and got me started in coaching,” Williams said. “We had some problems there in the beginning, but it all worked out.”
He spent 22 seasons at Maryland, uplifting the program following the cocaine-induced death of Len Bias and harsh NCAA sanctions. He guided the Terrapins to 14 NCAA tournament berths in his final 18 seasons, reached the Sweet 16 seven times, made the Final Four twice and won the school’s first NCAA basketball championship in 2002.
Williams’ frenzied approach on the sideline often left his white shirt, tie and suit completely soaked in sweat.
“Gary has earned the honor of being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame through his relentless pursuit of excellence,” said Debbie Yow, who served as Maryland’s athletic director from 1994-2010.
Upon his arrival at Maryland, the Terrapins were coming off a 9-20 season and a last-place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Williams was in the first year of reviving the program when the team was banned from postseason play in 1991 and 1992 and placed on three years’ probation by the NCAA for major violations that occurred during the three-year tenure of his predecessor, Bob Wade.
In spite of it all, Williams became the winningest coach in Maryland history, going 461-252. He retired as one of only five coaches make 11 consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament (1994-2004).
“Gary had so many great qualities, but I think he was exceptional at motivating his players. He always found a way to get the most out of them,” said Walt Williams, a member of Gary’s first Maryland team.
Gary Williams’ success at Maryland got him recognition, but he was an exceptional coach long before he arrived in College Park.
“Maryland was the most recent place I coached, so a lot of people overlook everything else,” he said. “I learned a lot about coaching in high school. I won the state championship in New Jersey (in 1970 with Woodrow Wilson High). That gave me confidence.”
Years later, Williams cut down the nets at the Georgia Dome after Maryland beat Indiana 64-52 to win the NCAA title.
“Coach Williams was a great coach,” said Steve Blake, the point guard on that team. “His intensity and knowledge of the game helped us all become better players, and his leadership led us right to a national championship.”
Williams has been retired for three years now, long enough to finally appreciate what he accomplished during his four-plus decades as a coach.
“When you coach, all you’re thinking about is the next game, the next player you’re going to recruit,” he said. “You never get to look back. Well, now that I’ve had the chance to look back, I realize that I got to do what I love in life. To get into the Naismith Hall of Fame, that validates that your life’s chase.”
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