Formative Years: Gary Williams

I’m not really what you’d call a “sports guy”. Sure, I like to watch football, college basketball, and the occasional baseball game. When presented with the opportunity, I even like to play a bit of football and basketball; however, it’s not really my main fix. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood to go watch a game. When I’m distracted by other goings-on in my life, I probably won’t even keep track of how my favorite teams are doing (although I always have time to be pissed at the Eagles). Yet, it was not always this way. There was once a time when I never wanted to miss a game and I knew every detail about the team I cared about. That time was college.

It’s no secret that when I got to college, I was miserable. The summer prior to starting college was the worst of my life. Being dropped off at the University of Maryland with no acquaintances, friends, or fellow sufferers in sight was hardly a good way to end it. And yet, despite my misery, I ended up living with a group of sophomores who showed me the ropes. As wary as I had been of not rooming with other freshman, I ended up having a large group of friends who already knew what to do at college. Hungry? Go to late night. Athlete’s foot? Where were your flip-flops. Bored? Let’s go to the game.

That's strange...I don't remember looking so stupid.

Sports quickly became the keystone activity of my weekends. Some of my first and finest memories at UMD involved going to football games. I still vividly remember cooking a Thanksgiving meal in a dorm kitchen and huddling in our room to watch us get trounced by Boston College shortly before Thanksgiving. They were simpler times.

Much simpler.

By the end of the fall, I was introduced to Maryland basketball. While football was a fun distraction, I was told that basketball was where UMD went really crazy. Multiples times a week we would head through the cold to the Comcast Center to watch DJ Strawberry, Greivis Vasquez, and the rest of the Terps square off. That year was particularly fantastic, including upsets of UNC and Duke. This was also when I learned of the legend of Gary Williams.

Gary Williams, for those who don’t know, is a fellow New Jersy-ian, Terps alum, and until last season, head coach of UMD Basketball. He is widely credited with single-handedly reviving Maryland basketball, is one of the winningest coaches is NCAA history, brought an NCAA-championship to UMD, and could bring the house down with a single fist pump. Like I said, the man is a legend.

I was taught by my roommates to hold the man in the highest regard. We once listened to the following song on loop for hours.

As college went on, we didn’t always have the best team, but it was hard to not care when Gary walked onto the court. Even in our worst seasons, it was always assumed that we could put up a fight as long as Gary was leading the troops.

My senior year brought some of the best and worst emotions I’ve ever had regarding the Terps. The freshmen who had joined the team when I first got to college were finally reaching the end of their careers. We upset Duke to win the ACC regular season. Things were good.

Finally, in the NCAA tournament, we had our big shot. Some of the highest seeds had been upset and the field was blown wide open. For the first time since I had cared, the Terps had an honest chance to get to the Final Four. A bunch of us gathered at Cornerstone to watch Gary lead the team against Michigan State. With the game winding down, Greivis nailed a last-second shot for what appeared to be a buzzer beater. And then, with seemingly no time left, Michigan State hit their own buzzer beater. Right when it seemed like we had pulled off an amazing upset, we were thrown to the ground and beaten to death. I still haven’t recovered from that moment.

Neither has Greivis, apparently.

At the end of that year, I graduated. The following May, Gary retired. I haven’t thought about it much since, until tonight, when the court is being named after Gary. I seriously wanted to go, but returning to a little alley in Baltimore at 1AM is an immeasurably bad idea. Nonetheless, it’s an incredibly strange, nostalgic feeling. It’s bizarre to think how far all of those folks from freshman year have scattered at this point. While we once lived within 50 feet of each other, many of us couldn’t be further now. While we once watched Gary fist-pumping the crowd to life, we’ll never see him coach another game. Obviously life goes on, but it’s strange when you’re reminded that college is over and it’s never coming back. Oh well…here’s to the Glory Days.

Then again, when I feel this way, I like to remind myself of how awesome I am. Problem solved.