Maryland, Williams expect big things in 2009-10
A year ago, Gary Williams took a small Maryland team with only one senior to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Before he got there, the fiery coach endured a home loss to Morgan State, a 41-point thrashing at Duke and harsh criticism from columnists and fans for supposedly allowing the program to deteriorate since it won the national championship in 2002. Come March, Williams was completely vindicated. "That was one of the most rewarding teams that I've ever coached," he said recently. "What we did at the end of the year, in terms of our dedication to being good and our ability to bounce back from some tough things, was very gratifying to me." This season, Williams has a totally different kind of team. Eight of the top nine players are back, including seniors Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne. Just as important, 6-foot-10 freshman Jordan Williams and 6-8 freshman James Padgett are expected to provide Maryland with a much-needed presence in the front court. Williams' job this season is to make sure the Terrapins live up to high expectations by breaking into the Top 25 and moving deep into the NCAA tournament. "The one thing you learn in coaching is nothing's automatic. Just because you return a lot of guys, that doesn't mean we're just going to walk out on the court and all those things are going to happen," Williams said. "I have to grind it as a coach and we have to make sure the guys understand that the more you win, the more individual things you receive as a basketball player." Vasquez, a 6-6 guard, appears to have bought into the credo. As a junior, he became the first player to lead the Terrapins in points (17.5 per game), assists (5) and rebounds (5.4) in the same season. He flirted with the idea of entering the NBA draft, but opted to tend to unfinished business at Maryland. Vasquez figures the better the Terrapins fare, the higher he goes in the draft. "It's not about me. It's about the whole team," he said. "If we win games, my name's going to be there." A year ago, the Terrapins needed someone like Vasquez, who was brash enough not to back down at Duke, North Carolina or anywhere else in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He intends to be a bit more under control this year, mainly because he won't have to carry the team on his own. "I think it's going to be fun. The competition level is better. The guys, they want to beat me. They want to be better than me," Vasquez said of his teammates. "When you have guys that want to be better than you and want to kick your butt in practice no matter who you are, that's when you become a good team. "That's why I'm happy. I'm not happy because I'm going to get all this publicity. I'm happy because my guys have gotten so much better from when last season ended to right now," he said. "I think that's going to be a huge factor this season because we're going to have more options. We're going to have seven, eight, maybe nine guys that are going to play." Starters Milbourne and Hayes averaged double figures in points last season, and forward Adrian Bowie expects to contribute more after starting 28 games as a sophomore. Forward Cliff Tucker intends to step it up after averaging 20 points in two games against North Carolina, and sophomore guard Sean Mosley (5.3 ppg) worked hard to be more of a force on the offensive end. "I've definitely improved my shooting, my speed and my footwork from last year," Mosley said. The key, however, could be the two freshmen. Maryland overcame its height deficiency last year, but that shouldn't be an issue if Padgett and Jordan Williams live up to the hype. "Jordan is very tough inside, a physical player, very strong with good hands," the coach said. "One of the keys for me coaching is to have the ability to score inside and outside. Jordan is a good enough passer to kick it out or score inside. We have to get those two guys up to speed with the rest of the players." If that can happen, the Terrapins could be very good. "We want to put a banner up in the rafters. This can be a big year for us," Bowie said. "I definitely feel like we now have everything to go against the top teams in the nation, not just the ACC."