The speech Gary Williams is set to give during Friday night’s enshrinement into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has been pored over for months, tweaked and edited to encapsulate a decorated career. If there is one thing Naismith officials tell you, Williams said, it is to diligently prepare for the speech. There is only one shot.
“It’s going to be a tough one,” Williams said Thursday.
Williams did it, although due to time restriction he won’t be able to thank everyone he’d like it to. There are too many people, from the high school level in New Jersey to the pinnacle at Maryland.
“It’s almost like a reunion,” said Williams, who retired after 22 seasons in 2011. “We’re all getting together for the first time since I left Maryland.”
Growing up in the Philadelphia area, Williams was strictly loyal to the Philadelphia Warriors, and later the 76ers. So it’s fitting that former 76ers legend Billy Cunningham will introduce Williams during Friday night’s ceremony. The two have developed a close friendship over the years, Williams said; they had played against each other when Cunningham was at North Carolina and Williams was a point guard at Maryland in the 1960s.
“He was a senior, I was a sophomore,” Williams said. “I’m sure he didn’t remember me playing. You don’t remember guys averaging three points a game.”
What Williams will be remembered for is making his own way as a coach, where he waited his turn to become the bench boss at Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden, N.J., before making head coaching stops at American, Boston College and Ohio State. He began reviving his alma mater once he was hired at Maryland in 1989. He led the Terrapins to 14 NCAA tournament appearances in his final 18 years, which included seven trips to the Sweet 16, two Final Four’s and the school’s first national title in 2002. He is the school’s all-time winningest coach, compiling a 461-252 record over two decades.
As a student of the game, he’s fully aware of the company he’ll join Friday night in Springfield, Mass. Williams noted that Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton was a trailblazer, one of the first African-American players to play in the NBA. He said he tried to imitate former Philadelphia Warriors guard Guy Rodgers on the playground growing up.
He closely followed Alonzo Mourning’s college career at Georgetown and with the NBA’s Miami Heat, and he said Nolan Richardson’s pressure defense at Arkansas was similar to what he tried to do at Maryland. He called former NBA Commisioner David Stern “a great story.”
Williams was also selected from enshrinement to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame later this fall. He’s the first coach to be inducted into both during the same year.
“It’s an incredible year. I never went into coaching with the idea that anything like this would ever happen, I’m trying to enjoy it as much as possible,” Williams said. “I’m really trying to enjoy this.”