Testudo Times Roundtable - Discussing Maryland Basketball After A Disappointing Season

Okay, it's time for another addition of the Testudo Times round table discussion, featuring all three of your Testudo Times writers talking about one of the hottest topics in Terp Nation right now - The 2010-2011 season, Gary Williams, recruiting, and the state of the basketball program.

First question - The 2010-2011 basketball season was one marked with some highlights (Jordan Williams' double-double dominance, the emergence of of Terrell Stoglin as a legitimate scoring guard, the performance of Dino Gregory) but will mostly be remembered for showing flashes of potential, but never being able to get over the hump, fading down the stretch. The team not only missed the NCAAT, but also the NIT, although it's believed that the NIT snub, if you want to call it that, was largely the result of politics rather than whether the team deserved to be in the field or not. Regardless, the season was a disappointing one and one most Terp fans would like to forget. But why did it occur? Did the seniors on this team not know how to be the main guys, having played behind Vasquez, Hayes and Milbourne for three years? Was there just not enough talent on this team? Was it coaching?

Ben G.

I think the biggest reason was the lack of senior leadership.  When two seniors and a junior (Bowie, Tucker, and Mosley), all of whom were Day 1 starters, manage to play themselves out of the starting lineup at different points throughout the season, that's not a very good sign.  Also when the head coach has to trot out four different starting lineups in the team's final five games, well, that's not a great sign either.  The excuse "Well, they had to play behind Greivis, Eric, and Landon their entire careers" is just that...an excuse.  Kids who were role players as underclassmen are asked to step up and be starters every year in programs all across the country.  Drew Nicholas played behind Juan Dixon and Byron Mouton for most of his career.  Yet, when he got his opportunity senior year, he stepped up and averaged almost 18 ppg.   Bowie, Tucker (and Mosley), never took that step and that's a major reason why this team never performed.

Ben B.

I suppose you could say that the seniors' inexperience was a really big problem, but the bigger problem was just that they weren't that good. Cliff Tucker wasn't being held out of the starting lineup by Landon and Eric; he was being held out by Sean Mosley. Lack of prior PT might explain Adrian's struggles, but he wasn't the crux of this team's failures.

The real problem was the lack of talent in the junior and senior classes. The senior class should've included Braxton Dupree, Shane Walker, and (most importantly) Gus Gilchrist, but it got blown up. And Sean Mosley certainly hasn't been the offensive threat everyone thought he'd be. Fact of the matter is that between the four upperclassmen on the team, there were three fringe players and one player (Dino) who would start on most ACC teams. The problem there isn't inexperience; it's talent.

(It's also why you never take anyone you don't think will/can be a starter, or at least major contributor, at high-level ACC play, because some of the players you do think are capable won't be.)

Coaching was a factor, of course, but that's because no coach is perfect. Gary made a lot of in-game mistakes, but he (and everyone else) tends to. We all know the man can coach when he has the talent. Nothing makes a coach look bad like a lack of talent, and nothing hides coaching inability better than good talent. Gary didn't have talent, so it made him look worse. He's fine.

Dave T.

I think the main problem this season was the inability of several players to step up and fill the huge scoring and leadership void left by Vasquez, Hayes and Milbourne. Dino was the only players who probably played at a level that we expected him to play prior to the season. In fact, he might have exceeded those expectations. But Cliff Tucker, Adrian Bowie, and Sean Mosley all fell short of expectations. Most people, myself included, thought Mosley would continue his progression and have a break-out type season, especially after he doubled his production between his freshman and sophomore year. But for whatever reason Mosley regressed a little this season. He was still that great, Byron Mouton-esque type guy on the court, but too often this season we needed him to be more than that. Bowie was actually more consistent than we give him credit for, but we needed more offense out of him.

Jordan was our most talented player on the court most nights and was also our biggest advantage when we played other teams. But opposing teams quickly learned that if they shut down Jordan, we would struggle to beat them with our guards. We just didn't have guards (except maybe Stoglin later in the season) who wanted to and or could carry our team when we needed it. Bowie, Tucker, and Mosley all seemed uncomfortable in that role. So I'd say it was a lack of depth, maybe a lack of experience in that some of those guys didn't get enough playing time last season behind Vasquez, Hayes and Milbourne. 

Second question, and this is one being heatedly debated among Terrapin fans across the interwebs and on sports talk shows - why hasn't Maryland been able to land some of the top basketball talent in recent years, especially players who are local?

 

DT

Yeah, this is a question that's highly debated among Terps fans, especially on this site. The answer is that there is no silver bullet thing you can point to as a cause for why this has happened recently, but rather it's a combination of things.

First, we know that Gary's strength as a coach isn't recruiting. I think almost everyone can agree on that. Thus, he has a heavy reliance on his assistants when it comes to recruiting and evaluating. When Maryland was constantly making sweet 16 trips, Gary had the same assistant coaches year after year. But after the Natty, he lost several of those guys and there were several years when the coaching staff changed year in and year out and that really hurts your recruiting ability.

As I've said numerous times, Yow also had a role here. Many have questioned why she'd try to undermine her own coach when it hurt her bottom line, but I think her recent outburst in the NC State coaching search shows you just have vindictive she can be and how much she wants to make Gary Williams look bad. Having Yow as an AD was a competitive disadvantage for Gary. Not only did Yow try to prevent recruits from coming to Maryland, she also controlled the recruiting budget for the team and the pay that the men's assistant coaches make. When a coach relies heavily on his assistants for recruiting and those assistants are making less money than your women's assistant coaches, something is wrong. This is just my theory here, but I think Gary had to constantly find ways around problems that Yow created for him. That's why I think Gary was so emotionally charged in the 2008-2009 season, when the Washington Post piece ran and when Gary and Yow's struggles boiled over into the public eye (which also resulted in this awesome phrase being said by Gary). Gary managed to get to the NCAA tournament despite everything that was being done to undermine and and everything that was said about him.

All of that aside, college basketball, despite what the NCAA tries to tell you, is a business. And Gary is the boss. And when your business does bad, it falls on the boss' shoulders. As Ben B. said above, Gary has to take some of the blame here. But I don't think we'll ever know (unless John Feinstein writes a book about it) exactly why these things happened and why we missed out on a lot of talent in the 2000s. What I think we do know is that recruiting seems to be on the upswing. Whether that's because Dino and the other assistants have been able to make inroads or because of Yow's departure, who knows. What I do know and what I will defend about Gary no matter what is his desire to see this program succeed. No one cares more about Maryland basketball than Gary Williams. If you think he cares more about golfing than he does hoisting another national championship in the air, you're crazy. I've seen first hand how much he cares. And he doesn't just care about the program, but he also cares about the kids that go through it. Maybe that's why he likes four year type guys - he gets to know and teach them and they often have a desire to want to get better and listen.

 

BG

This one's a doozy.  Look, Gary Williams isn't a good recruiter.  Saying that doesn't make me a Gary-basher, or a Dook-lover, or un-American.  It makes me a realist.  Any way you want to slice it, he's just not a good recruiter.  If you want to go by rankings (not always the best method), Gary doesn't come close to his peers.  Maryland has had one recruiting class ranked in the Top 25 the last seven years.  If you want to claim "Gary doesn't get the 5-stars but he gets hard workers that fit his system."  Well, he's gotten a couple great under-the-radar guys (Jordan Williams and Terrell Stoglin) but obviously not enough because the results over the last seven years have not been good.

 You can blame Yow (she certainly didn't help things) and the lack of continuity on the coaching staff (that didn't help either) but the bottom line is that Gary Williams is responsible for this program, and a major part of running a program is getting players to put on the court.  Now, I don't know every detail of every recruitment and I don't have a copy of Gary's personal planner.  But when you take the individual stories from numerous recruitments, they don't paint a pretty picture of Gary the recruiter. 

 We could write a novel on Maryland basketball recruiting and there may be more coverage on this issue because I know Dave and I don't exactly see eye to eye on this one, but I'll end with this:  Recruiting seems to be on the upswing.  Nick Faust and Justin Anderson are legitimate Top 50 guys that Maryland had to battle for.  But they are more the anomalies then the norm when it comes to Maryland recruiting, and I'm not sure if that will ever change under Gary Williams.

BB

This is above my pay grade. As such, keep in mind that almost everything said here is either conjecture or comes from second-hand sources - we aren't Gary and have no idea how much or little he's doing wrong. Being the King of Nuance that I am, though, I do think it's a variety of factors. Gary's the most obvious one, so he gets the majority of the blame. Truthfully, most of it's right. Look: he's just not a great recruiter. It's not that he doesn't care; it's just that recruiting isn't one of his big skills. I don't see how you can look at a recruiting period of about 5 years and pass off all the failures away from the head coach. The ACC Championship year not withstanding, I don't know if anyone wants to relive the past eight or so years of Maryland basketball. A lot of factors caused that down stretch, but Gary is really the only one who matters.

At the same time, it's stupid to act like it was just that Gary didn't care and only failed at things he could control. There were problems that were out of his hands, for sure. Assistant coaching turnover and Debbie Yow, to name two of them. The whole thing about the most powerful local program (DCA) being notoriously corrupt. The Rudy Gay fiasco. Gus Gilchrist. And so on. It doesn't excuse poor performance over the course of seven years (or however long it's been), but let's not act like the recent dark years were borne solely out of his shortcomings. I do have qualms with his overall strategy - targeting guys well outside the top 150 as roster-fillers, refusing to "play the game*", etc. - and I feel like those problems have become obvious as some of the bigger targets don't turn out, but unlike some (*cough*firegary*cough*) I don't think Gary's poor performance has been heinous. He made mistakes, but the good news is that it looks like he's learning from them.

*For the record, when I say "play the game" I'm not talking about cheating. I'm talking about turning down Baru's sponsor brother, supposedly being reluctant to pamper players and their coaches, not playing the relationship game. Bino's a relationship guy and you can see where that's taking Maryland without doing anything illegal. For whatever reason, Gary's seemed reticent to take up that path before.

Next question - When does Gary Williams retire and is the job his until he wants to retire? Hypothetical follow-up - Jordan stays in the draft and Maryland finishes 9-7 in ACC play and misses the NCAAT again - would Kevin Anderson pull the plug?

BB

I'm still thinking Gary has about five years left. I wouldn't be surprised if this (2012) recruiting class is him gearing up for his final big run. He looks young for his age, but he's already one of the oldest coaches in the game, and the guys ahead of him like Calhoun and Boeheim are on their last legs. It's not right around the corner, but he's not going to be here for another decade. At least, I hope not; I don't like JoePa situations.

As for the job security thing: in theory, he could be fired. I'm of the belief that no one's bigger than the program, not even Gary. If he turns in three more consecutive years of NIT seasons, then yeah, there's a decision to make. You can't let anyone hold the program hostage. In reality, though, the three-NIT-years thing is far-fetched. Even with them, Maryland would likely get fried in the media for pushing out a legend. That's a tightrope, and I don't think it's one that Anderson would like to walk unless he absolutely has to. He might think he has a chance to get out of it when Gary's contract runs out, but the media and FOG aren't that stupid; if you can't deal with the blowback of firing him, you can't deal with the blowback of letting his contract run out, either. He'll make a fuss either way.

And for part III, no. Hell no. Anderson doesn't have that much of a quick trigger finger. For those people saying "But look at Fridge!": those were entirely different situations. Fridge's problem was contractual; this would be purely performance-based. So no.

 

DT

I think Gary retires when he wants to retire. While some of the critics have gotten louder recently, I think there is still overwhelming support behind Gary, not just fans in the stands, but also donors who write big checks to Maryland. Gary took Maryland to the top of the mountain and, despite some of the recent struggles, I think he's their until he wants to step down. I think it would take something pretty epic for Gary to leave earlier than 2015ish (health, sub .500 season overall, huge scandal, etc.). I think you'll see another big push by Gary to try to make a final championship run by 2015 and sometime around then, he'll retire. 

And as Ben B. said, there is no way Kevin Anderson would fire Gary like Ralph. In fact, if Maryland went 4-12 in ACC play next year I still don't think he'd even consider firing him. The Ralph firing and situation with Gary are two entirely different situations and the circumstances are so vastly different that I'd argue the only similarities between the two are that both involve Kevin Anderson and both involve a coach who's also an alumni. That's it.

 

BG

I think Gary is here as long as he wants to be, and that's realistically at least until 2013.  Could he be here longer?  Sure.  Will he?  That will probably be up to him.  Regardless, I just don't see Kevin Anderson pulling the plug any time soon.  It's one thing to fire the Fridge, it's another to fire Gary Williams.  He's a legend, a HOFer, and the face of the University.  The Terps would have to miss the NCAA the next two-three seasons for KA to seriously considering dumping Gary.

Regardless of why we think Maryland has had an issue in the recent past with recruiting, do you think that recruiting has changed/improved recently, especially with the commitment of Faust and Justin Anderson and how hard Maryland is going after big-name talent, such as Shaquille Cleare?

BG

Recruiting has definitely been on the upswing.  There's no doubt about it.  As I mentioned above, Justin Anderson and Nick Faust are solid, Top-50 prospects that many high-major programs would love to have.  Shaquille Cleare is another big-time prospect who the Terps would seem to have a legitimate chance with. 

 I think there are a couple things behind this "resurgence", if we want to call it that.  One is assistant coach Bino Ranson.  Without Bino, we don't get Faust, and without Bino we certainly don't have our in with Cleare.  He's got connections, he's a tireless worker, and he should help upgrade the talent level at Maryland.  Ehsan's another guy who has turned into a stud on the recruiting trail.  He was the primary recruiter for Stoglin, and recruits are constantly mentioning "Coach Rob" in articles.  Staff continuity will certainly help, but I still think a bigger push from Gary is going to be needed to continue this recent success on the trail.  With Pe'Shon, Stoglin, Gibbs, Faust, and Anderson, Maryland is looking pretty set at the 1-3 in the future.  If Gary can go out and get Cleare and/or another top flight big, the next two-three years really start to look exciting.  

BB

Probably. It's appears to be trending up, but recruiting isn't about star rankings (sorry guys!). We obsess over them because they're a good indication of future success, but that's not why (or what) you recruit. You recruit for college success. In that sense, it's too early to know. 

As an example, we all thought that Mike Jones recruiting class was so awesome, but it, uh, wasn't. Same deal with Cliff Tucker and Sean Mosley (both top 100, Mosley was top 50). Just because they were highly ranked doesn't excuse their flops. Recruiting is as much about scouting as it is the actual recruiting part. Y'know, diamonds in the rough, players that fit the system, all that jazz.

For the most part, guys like Faust and Anderson look like they're both legit and fit Garyball. So yes, I do believe that recruiting's picked up. Unfortunately, I don't know for sure.

DT

Great, great points guys. Ben B., I'm glad you brought up the recruiting class rankings because I really think they're as valuable as trying to predict who will be in the 2012 NCAA tournament today. Who cares about the rankings? Does it matter that Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter would have both been 2-3 star recruits when they signed with us? Does it matter that Jordan Williams was the 25th best center coming into college? No. Not at all. Recruiting services have done a great job convincing us that their rankings and evaluations are important. But guess what - past the top talent that all of us could tell are the best players, they're not the best source for determining who will be good or bad in college. If they could predict and consistently rank how players would perform in college they wouldn't be working for Rivals, Scouts, or ESPN - they'd be working as a recruiter for a college. As Ben B. said, Mike Jones' class was ranked in the top 5 nationally. But how many times did that class get past the first weekend of the NCAA tourney? Exactly. (Although to their credit, they did win the ACC Tourney one year, which isn't an easy task).

All of that aside, I do feel like recruiting is on the upswing. While I agree with Ben that rankings don't matter, Maryland has still be noticeably absent when it comes to landing some of the top talent out there. I think Justin Anderson could end up being one of the studs of the 2012 class and I think Faust has the ability to step on campus this year and be an instant contributer. That, plus the fact that Maryland is being consistently mentioned as players for some of the top tier talent out there has me hopeful that we'll starting bringing some top talent to CP. I guess we'll have to see whether we're again the 2nd best option or if we can finally be the landing spot for some of these players.

Follow-up to that - What is your take on the state of Maryland Basketball? When the time comes for Maryland to hire a new basketball coach, will they be able to do what NC State couldn't and attract either a hot, up and coming coach like Shaka Smart or lure away a big name coach from another school?

BB

Maryland's a better job than N.C. State. N.C. State's claim to fame is A) history and B) passion. Maryland has both and in quantities just as great as NCSU. More importantly, they have other things, too: great facilities, money, recent success, a huge recruiting base in their backyard, and, of course, the fact that they won't judge their coach based on their performance against Duke and UNC. Maryland's like N.C. State with more recent success and less crazy expectations.

I do think some fans shoot too high (seriously, stop talkingabout Jay Wright and Jamie Dixon). But given everything at Maryland's disposal, they really are a top 25 job. Forget Dixon and Wright (and Sean Miller and Brad Stevens, you idiots) but guys like Anthony Grant, Shaka Smart, and Mike Brey should all be legitimate targets.

And a little more on the topic, just because it interests me: the three names I mentioned above would probably be the primary targets. Grant's local (VCU), young, and successful. Ditto for Smart. Brey is from Hyattsville and went to DeMatha before being an assistant at Duke, so he'd take the job for sure and is a safe hire. I'd also expect some feelers to be sent out to some tougher pulls: Mark Turgeon (TAMU) and Buzz Williams (Marquette) are the first two names that come to mind, though there are others. They likely wouldn't be all too receptive, but it's worth a try to gauge interest. Also, keep an eye on Tony Barbee at Auburn and Darrin Horn at South Carolina. Barbee pulled two four stars in the last recruiting class and did a better job than expected down there, while my love affair with Darrin Horn is well-known. #UAfam

BG

This is a great question and one I've been thinking about ever since the NC State debacle of a coaching search.  Namely, will Maryland have similar trouble attracting an up and coming coach?  Maryland is a certainly a better job than NC State (word constraints restrict me from listing all the reasons why.)  But anybody that thinks that Maryland is going to attract Jamie Dixon, Rick Barnes, Brad Stevens, or someone of that caliber may be in for a letdown, as well.  The blue-bloods of college basketball are always going to get their pick of the lot but for those second tie programs (which I believe Maryland is in), nothing is guaranteed.  If you're at a Pitt, or Texas, or Arizona, why would you drop everything and make a lateral move to Maryland.  It could happen and every situation is different, but if you think Sean Miller or Jamie Dixon is chomping at the bit to come coach at Maryland, you're probably fooling yourself. 

 One more important point in terms of our future coaching search: program history becomes less and less important the longer the program goes without winning.  That's another major reason why NC State had so much trouble attracting a top candidate.  Sure, they've won two national championships, but if it happened before the invention of the internet, no prospective coach is going to care that much.  If our next three years include three tourney appearances, and a Sweet 16 or two, Maryland will have a much easier time finding quality candidates then if we're regulated to the NIT the next three seasons.

DT

Great points, guys. I too think Maryland > NC State and not just because we no longer have Yow and they're stuck with her. NC State will always be the younger brother to Duke and UNC, constantly trying to get noticed but all too often being  overshadowed and pushed around by their blue-chip college basketball program siblings. State itself is a great school - beautiful campus, good facilities, passionate fans; but they'll forever be second fiddle to two of the best college basketball programs not just in their conference, but in the country. That alone would make me want to avoid State if I were a coach - who wants to work at a place where your boss and fans expect you to perform at the Duke-UNC level but without the same resources and support? If you took State out of North Carolina and put it in South Carolina, Georgia or even southern Virginia, I think they'd be much more successful and more desirable.

As for Maryland, I think we're a great program, but not an elite program. We don't have the deep history of Duke, UNC, Kentucky, etc., but we're still one of the best of the second tier school when it comes to college basketball. We have good facilities, great location, good local talent, passionate fan base and we're in the best basketball conference in the country. All of that being said, we're not a desirable enough job to lure a coach from a fellow second tier school the way Duke, UNC and other blue chip programs could, unless someone really wanted to coach at Maryland or wanted to move/live in this area. I think we'd be a desirable job for the "hot" coach of the moment, like Shaka Smart is right now, or for a coach who's had success at a major school, but one who's basketball program isn't wildly known. I think Maryland should be able to do what NC State couldn't with their coaching search - put feelers out to some good coaches at good schools, just in case, and then land an up and coming coach. There is no way Maryland should have to settle for a coach the way NC State did with their hire.

Okay, just for fun, a way-to-early prediction time for 2011-2012 - If Jordan comes back for his Jr. year, how many ACC wins does this team have and if Jordan stays in the draft, how many ACC wins does this team have?

BG

If Jordan comes back (an unlikely "if" at this point), I'll say 11-12 ACC wins.  Outside UNC (and maybe Duke), no one will have that much more talent than we will.  Without Jordan, boy oh boy.  I could see us winning anywhere from 5-9 ACC games.  I'll say 7 wins if Jordan doesn't come back.  The front court may be painful to watch, though.

DT

I think if Jordan's back, we're a top four ACC team. Had Barnes and everyone else not returned to UNC I'd say we'd have a chance to win the conference with Jordan back, but now I think UNC has to be the frontrunner to win the conference next year. Without Jordan, we could definitely struggle. It would depend on how much Breunig can contribute early on and whether Weijs, Pankey and Padgett can show and front court presence. It could get ugly, but I think we'd be looking at a solid bubble team who could win between 7 and 9 ACC games.

BB

If Jordan comes back, I'm definitely expecting double-digit wins. The outside shooting will still be a little weak, but I'm not all too worried about replacing the production of the three players Maryland loses. I'd say 10, with a chance at 11. Without Jordan, there's going to be some trouble. Maryland's only three big men would be a stone-handed power forward, a redshirt freshman with ankle injuries, and a rail-thin shotblocker from JuCo. There would be such a huge swing in post play - from great to below-average - that I wouldn't be surprised to see as few as six wins. I love Terrell Stoglin, but he's not at the point where he can carry a team on his back, which is what he'd have to do without Jordan in the lineup.

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