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Williams Looks for Clues After Terps' Tough Season

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 31, 2005; Page D05

Maryland's men's basketball season had ended only 15 hours earlier when Coach Gary Williams returned to College Park yesterday, already eyeing the future. The Terrapins' experience of missing the NCAA tournament and making a run to the National Invitation Tournament semifinals, he noted, will be beneficial only if it motivates players.

"It's got to hurt," said Williams, whose team finished 19-13, failing to win 20 games for the first time since the 1995-96 season. "That's the way you improve. You get beat, you look at why you got beat and you do something about it. I can't put that feeling into a player. But I'll be able to get a feel" if they have it.

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Maryland's season ends with a 75-67 loss to South Carolina.

The team almost definitely will have a different look next season. Point guard John Gilchrist said he will formally declare for the NBA draft in the coming weeks so he can attend pre-draft camps. While he is not expected to hire an agent, which would allow him the option of returning to college, those close to Gilchrist this season said they do not expect him to return to Maryland.

Gilchrist was named the MVP of last season's ACC tournament, which Maryland won for the first time in 20 years. The junior remains confident about his NBA draft status, even though his season ended with him on the bench in street clothes, sitting out his fourth consecutive game Tuesday because of what were characterized as ankle and wrist injuries.

Gilchrist's fascination with the NBA, which began after last season's ACC tournament, was a distraction and disrupted overall chemistry, according to those within the program. But Gilchrist's erratic behavior and play was far from Maryland's only problem.

By their own admission, players said opponents played harder than the Terps on numerous occasions, including in three losses to Clemson and the loss to South Carolina on Tuesday in the season finale. The lapse of energy was most noticeable defensively: Opponents shot better than 45 percent against Maryland in the four straight losses that closed the regular season. Williams said Maryland "never got it to the level to beat real good teams" consistently.

A season-ending knee injury to sixth man D.J. Strawberry in mid-January left Maryland without its best on-ball defender. Guard Chris McCray filled the duties admirably the rest of the season -- he was the team's most consistent player overall -- but Strawberry's absence forced everyone to adjust.

Maryland will add athletic small forward Shane Clark to a roster that should return everyone among the top eight players except Gilchrist. Williams could sign at least one more player for next season, possibly a junior college big man. Point guard Sterling Ledbetter had extensive action at point guard in the NIT, and though he did not play well Tuesday, the experience could serve him well next season.

Williams will fill as many as two assistant positions over the next several weeks. Associate head coach Dave Dickerson, who has spent nine seasons on Williams's staff, is a finalist for the head coaching job at Tulane, Williams said. The Green Wave is expected to conclude its search as early as today. Williams already has lost first-year assistant Mike Lonergan, who will succeed the retired Tom Brennan as Vermont's head coach. Williams said there is no timetable to hire a replacement.

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