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ON BASKETBALL/John Feinstein: The Turtle Has Itself to Fear in Maryland's Men's Basketball Program

Gary Williams and Maryland, national champions in 2002, are in jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in the past five seasons.
Gary Williams and Maryland, national champions in 2002, are in jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in the past five seasons. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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"Yeah, and it wasn't my fault that they're not here," Williams said. "You know, that was somebody else's call."

The implication was that Yow or someone in the athletic department had somehow been responsible for Gilchrist and Evans not being at Maryland. Williams has since said he wasn't talking about Yow in the Gilchrist case but about Terrelle Woody, Gilchrist's "personal trainer," who is now on the staff at South Florida.

Regardless, on Tuesday, the athletic department immediately began firing back at Williams, providing documentation to show it was Williams who had released Gilchrist from his scholarship and Williams who had decided that Evans, who had frequently been in trouble with the law, should not be at Maryland.

Williams did make those decisions, and he should be proud of them. He refused to allow Gilchrist and Woody to force him into giving Woody a job. He belatedly realized that bringing in a player with Evans's off-court record was a mistake for the program and probably not a good idea for Evans, whose every off-court move would have been scrutinized in this market.

So this is what it has come to at Maryland: The coach and the AD are "blaming" each other for doing the right thing.

The worst part of all this isn't the airing of dirty laundry and personal animosities in public. It's that everyone at Maryland seems to be missing the point: Through Tuesday night, Gilchrist was averaging 10.8 points and 5.0 rebounds for 7-12 South Florida, and Evans is averaging 13.0 points and 2.3 rebounds for 9-11 Kent State.

If the argument were over who was responsible for Michael Beasley or Kevin Durant not coming to Maryland, go ahead and fight it out. But it's about reasonably good players who might or might not have made the Terrapins better.

What the situation boils down to is this: No one at Maryland is happy with what's going on. Everyone knows Williams and his assistants need to find a way to recruit better, although they deserve credit for refusing to sell their souls to get players. Williams is still as good a coach as there is when it comes to preparing a team for a game or making adjustments during a game.

But John Wooden didn't win without great players and neither did Dean Smith or Mike Krzyzewski. Williams is no different. He needs better players.

It would be a shame if Yow decided to use this public spat as a jumping off point to try to run Williams out of town, which would mean paying him $4.2 million over the next three years. That's no way to end the career of a man who resurrected a dead program and coached it to heights it had never reached before, a man whose name should be on the court at Comcast Center someday soon.

But Williams knows the state of the program is unacceptable. Maryland basketball has too proud a tradition to accept mediocrity, and 46-48 is by definition mediocre.

Yesterday, he let Yow know there would be no more public sniping on his end, that his only public comments for the rest of the season would be about his team and upcoming opponents. Yow should take the same tack: If asked about her basketball coach, she should shake her head and say, "Why isn't he in the Hall of Fame yet?"

It doesn't matter if she means it or not. It is time to see the forest through the trees at Maryland. Arguing about Gus Gilchrist and Tyree Evans is like arguing over whose job it is to lock the door when the house is on fire.

It is up to Williams to find the players who can put out the fire. It is up to Yow and everyone else at Maryland to not fan the flames.

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