WASHINGTON – The arena had the feel of a big time ACC Basketball game two hours before tip off. The doors opened and the students began running into Comcast Center to claim their front row seats.
The combination of the opponent being the hated Duke Blue Devils and the school honoring former coach Gary Williams by naming the court after him played a big part in that.
Sitting there Wednesday night and watching the building fill up, brought back many memories of when that used to be “the norm” for Maryland Basketball. It started at Cole Field House where as a student working at WMUC Radio, the campus station, I had the privilege of interviewing Gary before every game. It didn’t matter if he was getting ready to face a Division II school or the number 1 team in the nation, Gary would give the time to a student, realizing what it meant to the school radio station.
Don’t get me wrong, if he didn’t like the question he would let you know about it too. Let’s just say I learned a lot about interviewing during my time with him, but will always be thankful for the opportunity.
With the anticipation building and the teams leaving the floor after warm-ups, the lights went out 15 minutes before tip. The video board began to play a three minute video tribute to Gary and then, just as he did before every game, the video board showed him making the trip from the Maryland locker room underneath the arena to the floor. The roar was deafening as soon as he appeared on the screen and the chants of “Gary Gary” grew louder until he appeared and then on Que the coach offered one more fist pump that sent the crowd into a frenzy even more.
“That’s the last time.”
Gary thanked the “loyal Maryland Basketball fans that made this happen.”
He went on to thank his former players and assistant coaches along with the students,
“You helped us win a lot of games”, he said.
“You have a great opportunity tonight to do the same thing for Mark Turgeon and Maryland Basketball.”
After the ceremony he walked off the floor and retreated to a luxury box to watch the game.
Williams has made it a point to say a number of times that he is staying away and letting Turgeon put his own stamp on the program.
“It’s his program now”, he said.
Turgeon appreciates that,
“He’s been great, he’s been off the charts.”
But, last night was all about the winningest coach in Maryland history and a chance for everyone associated with University of Maryland to honor the coach that took the school to two Final Fours and won a National Championship.
What’s your favorite memory from last night, or of Gary Williams in general? Post to the comments section, or on the WTOP Facebook Page.