June 29, 2006
COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams returned from a goodwill trip to the Middle East and quickly set about trying to quiet his critics, who had grown quite loud of late.
Williams was one of about a dozen Division I head coaches who participated in Operation Hardwood, which involved working with United States soldiers stationed in Kuwait. While in the Persian Gulf, Williams learned that Class of 2007 recruit Jeff Jones had reneged on his verbal commitment, and that the father of Class of 2006 signee Eric Hayes was unhappy with the direction of the program.
Williams learned the first piece of news directly from assistant coach Michael Adams, who took the call from Jones' father. The second bombshell came courtesy of an article in the Baltimore Sun, which quoted Hayes' father as saying he had "questions" for Williams and wanted to set up a meeting.
"Like any parent or any basketball coach, I've got questions about what's going on," said Kendall Hayes, who coached his son at Potomac High in Dumfries, Va. "I'm going to talk to (Williams) when he comes back (from overseas). We're going to sit down and talk at some point."
According to sources, Williams felt the Sun article was grossly unfair, especially since both Kendall and Eric Hayes said the player had no intention of attending any college other than Maryland. Williams believed that Sun reporter Heather Dinich was over-blowing the entire situation, and he called her from Kuwait to express that feeling, apparently via a profanity-laced tirade.
A Maryland beat writer, Dinich has told friends that Williams screamed at her for 10 minutes straight while repeatedly dropping curse words and ultimately told her she wasn't qualified to cover Maryland basketball.
However, the Jones de-commitment did seem to awaken Williams to the fact that he needed to regain control of his own program, and he resumed work in College Park with renewed determination.
Within a week of returning from Operation Hardwood, Williams hired (as expected and projected in this space last time) Chuck Driesell as an assistant coach and called Jones for a lengthy conversation. Williams then got busy on the recruiting trail, making personal contact with several Maryland targets and sitting down with the staff to map out a clear strategy.
In mid-June, Maryland picked up verbal commitments from rising seniors Shane Walker of Bishop Ireton and Adrian Bowie of Montrose Christian. Neither player is a blue-chipper, but both are well-regarded and have promising potential.
Walker, an athletic 6-9, 215-pound power forward, posted solid numbers last season at Bishop Ireton, which was not so coincidentally coached by the younger Driesell. Williams has scouted Walker several times and reportedly stated that the native of Great Britain reminds him somewhat of former Maryland star Chris Wilcox, who's now in the NBA.
Georgetown, Vanderbilt and Virginia Tech were among the other schools that had offered a scholarship to Walker, who boasts a 3.2 grade-point average.
Bowie, a 6-2 (maybe) lefty, developed a reputation as a defensive stopper and slasher while starting for a powerful Montrose Christian club last season. He has a spotty jump shot but is very adept at getting to the rim and finishing, according to most recruiting analysts.
Bowie grew up around Maryland athletics, since his father John Bowie is a long-time equipment manager for the Terps. Maryland was the first major program to offer a scholarship to Bowie, who also was being heavily recruited by Florida, Florida State, Georgetown, Virginia and others.
While Bowie and Walker are not necessarily immediate-impact players, they appear to be solid recruits with nice upsides. They joined two in-state prospects, Calvert Hall post player Braxton Dupree and Mount St. Joseph forward Dino Gregory, as Maryland's early commitments for the Class of 2007.
Landing Bowie and Walker certainly cannot hurt the Terps' chances of recovering Jones as a recruit. All three prospects are teammates with the Triple Threat AAU team, and they are good friends who talk with each other regularly.
Jones has been hearing from a number of programs since re-opening his recruitment, and he recently took unofficial visits to Charlotte, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. Charlotte jumped into the picture strictly because of associate head coach Rob Moxley, the former Maryland assistant whose resignation this spring prompted Jones to reconsider.
Moxley isn't doing his old program any favors by pushing hard for Jones, with whom he had developed a strong relationship. Interestingly, Moxley and Charlotte also are involved with another long-time Maryland target, Arkansas big man Michael Sanchez.
FOOTBALL: GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS
Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen pulled a surprise move in late May when he abruptly fired veteran director of football operations Tom Deahn.
Deahn spent seven seasons in the same role at Maryland, having been originally hired by former coach Ron Vanderlinden and retained by Friedgen. Deahn was praised by both of his bosses in College Park for his organizational skills and attention to detail.
Several Maryland sources said that Deahn's sudden dismissal was not simply a matter of job performance, but rather was the direct result of other unacceptable behavior.
Deahn's departure coincided with the reassignment of long-time football office employee Karyl Henry, whose previous position was administrative assistant to the head coach. Henry apparently was re-assigned to another job within the athletic department. Neither personnel change was announced publicly by school officials.
In other football news, the hiring of Phil Zacharias as running backs coach assured that Friedgen will serve as his own offensive coordinator in 2006. Zacharias is a journeyman assistant who spent last season as the defensive line coach at Temple. He previously served stints at Notre Dame, North Carolina and Stanford.
Zacharias, who also spent three seasons as the linebackers coach with the Baltimore Ravens, increased the number of African-American assistants at Maryland to three.
Maryland received good news in June when four-star quarterback recruit Jeremy Ricker announced that he had qualified for freshman eligibility. Ricker, from Bishop McDevitt High in Pennsylvania, still must pass through the NCAA Clearinghouse.
Barring any late surprises, Ricker's good news left South Carolina athlete Ronnie Tyler and Connecticut offensive lineman Bruce Campbell as the lone incoming recruits who are still trying to qualify. The Terps previously lost stud defensive end Melvin Alaeze (see page 21), a two-time Maryland signee, because of academic and disciplinary complications.
Finally, in the believe-it-or-not category: Former Maryland quarterback Joel Statham entered the NFL supplemental draft, which is scheduled for July 13. Statham initially announced that he was transferring to Division I-AA Jacksonville State, but that apparently didn't work out, as he is not currently listed on the team's 2006 roster. Why a guy who failed miserably in his chance to be a starting quarterback at the ACC level would attempt a jump to the NFL is anybody's guess.