June 27, 2007
COLLEGE PARK If the high school students are out of school and the AAU circuit is underway, then Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams is getting heat for his efforts on the recruiting trail.
Criticizing Williams for his alleged lack of enthusiasm, poor strategy and inability to finish on top targets has become an annual rite of summer among many diehard Maryland fans.
The Gary bashers came out in force again in mid-June, after Pennsylvania shooting guard Brian Walsh committed to Xavier over Maryland. On the surface, it was another inexplicable loss for the Terrapins, who were the clear-cut leader for Walsh from the outset.
Providing more ammunition for the critics was the fact that Walsh stated that he chose Xavier in large part because of the personal attention he received from head coach Sean Miller.
"I think it was just the coaches," Walsh told the Rivals.com network. "Gary Williams is a great coach, but he is kind of from the old school. He lets the (assistants) do most of the recruiting, but Coach Miller really reached out to me more, and I just related really well with him."
When the news about Walsh broke in mid-June, it sent a portion of Terrapin Nation into meltdown mode. Rabid posters on the popular fan website operated by the Terrapin Times unleashed the usual torrent of complaints, that Williams does not work hard enough at recruiting and is out of touch with the current generation of players.
Some of the message-board posters who complain incessantly about this topic often include a photograph of Williams playing golf or doing some other non-basketball activity. Such pictures often are juxtaposed opposite a photo of some other big-time coach, such as Roy Williams or Mike Krzyzewski, intently watching prospects at one of the shoe camps.
Fueling the anger of many fans was the fact that they had read stories on the Terrapin Times website since March that Maryland was the runaway leader for Walsh and that a commitment likely was imminent. Those reports were true at the time, and in fact were based on Walsh's own comments.
However, things changed with Walsh's recruitment in late May, after the Maryland staff scouted another wing guard, Chris Turner of Winchendon Prep in Massachusetts. The Terrapins already were involved with Turner and decided to turn it up a notch after Williams saw the 6-5 North Carolina native and decided that he preferred him over Walsh.
Walsh, who initially drew notice at the ABCD Camp last summer, is considered one of the top pure shooters in the Class of 2008. However, the 6-4, 180-pounder is not real strong and lacks great athleticism. According to sources, Maryland thought Turner was just as good a shooter, while possessing the skills Walsh lacks. A 6-5, 185-pounder, Turner is more explosive and a better leaper.
"Chris is pretty strong. He can get to the basket and dunk it on you or can drill it from deep," said Greg Moulden, director of the North Carolina-based D-One Sports AAU team. "He is a shooter and a scorer. By that, I mean he can hit the stationary jumper or create his shot off the dribble."
SITES OFTEN CENSOR THEMSELVES
On June 20, the Terrapin Times website finally reported what some TT staff members had known for weeks that Maryland was actively recruiting Turner, who visited College Park along with his mom earlier in the month.
Importantly, it also was revealed that Maryland's coaching staff had told Walsh to hold off on committing until later in the summer. That is called "slow-playing" a recruit in the business, and Walsh figured it out quickly. Realizing that he was not necessarily the top shooting guard target for the Terps, Walsh had a new perspective. He suddenly changed gears and committed to Xavier.
Of course, average fans relying on various websites for their news would not know everything about the inner workings of an individual player's recruitment, in part because it is not in the best interest of the coaching staff in question to have that sort of information in the public forum. Maryland didn't want to publicize the fact that it was picking up its pursuit of Turner.
The Walsh drama brought to light a precarious balancing act that many operators of well-connected, fan-based websites must perform on a regular basis.
On the plus side, because of cozy relationships with some of the individuals they cover, they sometimes have better access to quality information than anyone in the mainstream media. On the down side, the operators regularly must filter that information keeping some of it away from their own subscribers in order to protect their relationships, often in ways that would be considered unethical and/or inappropriate for mainstream media outlets.
No reporter who covers Maryland athletics is more plugged in than Keith Cavanaugh, who has been publishing the Terrapin Times monthly magazine since the early 1990s. He talks regularly with coaches and administrators. As a result, he breaks more scoops about Maryland athletics than the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun and every other area newspaper combined, in a region where media outlets typically put college sports far down their lists of priorities.
However, there also are many things Cavanaugh simply cannot reveal to the average fan who is reading his website. Among other topics, the behind-the-scenes details of the Walsh-Turner recruitments fit that description, at least temporarily leaving even TT subscribers in the dark.
Ultimately, the loss of Walsh is probably not worth getting upset about. He is a quality player but by no means a program-maker or breaker, especially since Maryland is well-stocked with guards at the moment. Turner or Baltimore St. Frances standout Sean Mosley easily could take the wing guard slot in this recruiting class, or the staff simply could wait until next year to fill that need.
It is far more important for the Class of 2008 to include a quality big man, since James Gist and Bambale Osby have just one year of eligibility remaining.
The Terrapins are in hot pursuit of New Jersey power forward Quintrell Thomas. The 6-7, 225-pounder is described as a classic inside banger who likes to play with his back to the basket and possesses a nice array of post moves. He is athletic enough to play above the rim and has solid ball skills, a must for a post player in the Terps' flex offense.
Maryland appears to be the runaway leader for Thomas, who has said he will make a commitment by late August. However, the longer the process drags out, the greater the chance that other schools will get involved. At the moment, Thomas rates Maryland ahead of Pittsburgh and Rutgers, but Kansas and Florida also recently made contact. Failing to close the deal and land Thomas would be a much greater blow for the Terps than losing Walsh.
There remains some validity to the complaints about Williams' recruiting. He still has not realized that, in this day and age, most big-time prospects expect to have a strong relationship with the head coach. Meeting a recruit for a tour of the Comcast Center is not enough when rival head coaches are providing a much more personal touch through regular phone calls, text-messages and such.
However, Maryland fans should not expect anything to change at this point. Williams has been enduring the same criticism for the past decade, and he does not seem inclined to change his ways.