Gary Williams reminisces about his battles against and friendship with Mike Krzyzewski


“I left Mike [Krzyzewski] a message this morning congratulating him and also said he wouldn’t [have reached win No.] 903 until February if it wasn’t for my contributions to his record,” Gary Williams joked. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

There also was some actual news broken in the interview, as Van Pelt revealed that Williams will be doing some TV work for the Big Ten Network this season.

Channeling my inner Steinberg, here’s some of the highlights of the interview. You can listen to the whole thing here.

SVP: Gary, the season’s about a week old and you’re not on a bench. Have you lost your mind just yet?

GW: Uh, close, but not completely. It’s kind of interesting watching games where you don’t have a dog in the fight and trying to be more honest about how you see certain teams and seeing what’s out there.

 SVP: And now you’re going to be doing some work for the Big Ten Network, so now you’re watching with an analyst’s eye, as well. . . . I wanna ask you, as a guy who spent more than 20 years going head-to-head with Mike Krzyzewski, who set the record [Tuesday] night, what about him specifically was such a challenge to prepare for when your Maryland teams would take on Duke?

 GW: Well, the toughest thing was that you knew that when Duke came out, you were gonna have to play at a pretty good level, just in terms of intensity, really nothing to do with basketball, because I’ve never seen Duke come out . . . where they weren’t gonna give their best effort. And that was one thing you had to do with your program before you could ever expect to win a game against them is to get your guys to play at that same intensity level. It’s not easy to do that on a consistent basis.

SVP: You’re so familiar [with each other], what then becomes what you have to do as a coach, when you already know what he’s going to do and vice versa?

 GW: I kind of like the challenge because you know they’re gonna run their stuff really well, and if you wanted to win against them, you had to run your stuff well, and your defense had to be as smart as their defense. . . . The big thing was, with Duke, you could never let them get on a run. I’ve never seen a team do a better job of scoring 12 points in two minutes, or whatever. . . . So it was very important with each possession, when you have the ball, you had to get a good look, had to get a good shot, because if you missed a couple of times in a row, chances are they’d hit a couple threes and all of a sudden the game was changed.

SVP: Over all the years, if I were to ask you the one win that you had against [Krzyzewski] that stands out, that you’ll remember for a reason or another, what game would you say jumps to mind, Gary? 

GW: Well, in 2001, when we won down there, I think it was [Shane] Battier’s senior year, we had lost about three weeks before and we had a very good team that year, we got to the Final Four, but we were up 10 with about a minute and five left and Steve Blake, our very good point guard, fouled out of the game. And we missed a couple free throws, Jason Williams hit three threes – one from out of bounds, I might add; it was still a heck of a shot – and they got us, put the game in overtime and beat us in overtime and we lost four straight league games after that and it didn’t look good. But we got it turned around, we beat N.C. State on the road right before we played Duke on the road and we were able to win down there. I thought that game really gave us the momentum to get to the Final Four.

SVP: Jay Williams, who works with us now, said that during that period of time that he was at Duke that the Maryland-Duke rivalry was actually a bigger deal than the Duke-Carolina rivalry. . . . If I were to ask you the game that stings the most…which loss to [Krzyzewski] will always stick with you.

 GW: Oh, the Final Four game, because I was really proud of our team. We had never been there before and Mike had probably only been there about nine times by that time. So we went out, and we looked like the team that had been there before. We got up by 20 in the first half and … they made the run and got it down to like 12, 10 at halftime. And, walking off the court, I thought Duke was gonna make another run in the second half but I thought we were good enough to withstand it. But they caught us at the end of that game. That one really hurt, because at that time, as a coach, you never know if you’re gonna get back to a Final Four again. I thought that might have been my one shot to win a national championship. Didn’t get it, and that hurt for a long time.

 SVP: I started by saying I thought [Krzyzewski] was America’s greatest coach. If you have somebody else that you put above him, who would it be?

 GW: Well, I consider him that, too, and in fact I left Mike a message this morning congratulating him and also said he wouldn’t [have reached win No.] 903 until February if it wasn’t for my contributions to his record.

After spending the first 17 years of his Post career writing and editing, Matt and the printed paper had an amicable divorce in 2014. He's now blogging and editing for the Early Lead and the Post's other Web-based products.

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