Buck Williams was trying yesterday to explain why he plays basketball the way he does, why he outworks his opponents. He was trying to put into words the intensity that sets him apart not only from players on other teams, but from his own teammates.
"I don't know what it is but when I get there on the court I'm a completely different person," he said, the words rolling off his tongue in the slight Southern drawl his friends kid him about. "Here, now, I'm relaxed, I can joke around and have fun. But when I'm out there I have a lot to accomplish, a lot to prove.
"When I go out there I'm going to do whatever I can within the rules to get my job done."
There is a reason why Williams, Maryland's 6-foot-8 junior center, plays the way he does. It goes beyond the desire to win. Or even the desire to do well individually.
"Ever since I've been a kid, I've had one main goal in life," Williams said, relaxing in the stands of Cole Field House. "That goal is to buy my mother a house. I know the way for me to reach that goal is through basketball and I'm determined not to let anything stop me from doing it.
"When I was a kid our house -- I mean, it was home, and it still is. It was always a happy place. We were never poor or hungry. But it's small, real small. When I was a kid (one of five children) I used to share a bed with two of my brothers. It was one of those deals where you left a bookmark where you'd been to save your place.
"If you can understand that, then maybe you can understand why I play the way I do."
Williams doesn't want to portray himself as poverty-striken. He points out there was always food on the table and his parents both had jobs, his father as a construction worker, his mother as a housekeeper at the Rocky Mount, N.C., YWCA.
But he remembers feeling as if he was living in the lap of luxury when he arrived at Maryland and had his own bed. And he sometimes feels twinges of guild when he looks around the comfortable apartment he and Albert King share, and thinks of his family's cramped quarters.
In spite of those thoughts, Williams plans to keep the NBA waiting and stay in Maryland for his senior year, because it's important to his parents that he graduate. He is a general studies/business major with a B average. He wants to work in real estate, remodeling old houses, some time in the future.
"My first priority coming here was to get a degree," he said. "I think I have a commitment to myself, to my family to go through with it. I don't want to leave anything undone.
"The thought of taking the money now sticks in my mind sometimes because I know then I could go out and buy a house for my family. But I want to try not to be influenced by that because I think in the long run I'll be better off by staying here for my last year."
His coach, Lefty Driesell, putting aside the obvious reasons why he wants Williams back, also thinks Williams should stay another year.
"As good a player as he is now, he'll be better a year from now. He'll have a year to work on his outside shot, to improve his all-around game, and he'll have his degree," Driesell said. "And next year, even though he'll miss having Albert (King) around, he'll be the star. Fact is, he still hasn't gotten the publicity he deserves. He hasn't made any all-American teams of even been first team all-conference. All that would be bound to happen next year."
Still, Williams thinks about next season with some trepidation. "If I'm going to be honest, I have to say that the thought of playing with a lot of freshmen bothers me," he said. "No matter how good they are, they're still freshmen. You don't replace an Albert King. There's just no way. It worries me."
If other coaches in the ACC had their way, Williams would be tied up in a bow marked NBA right now.
"He is, without question, the most annoying player in the league," N.C. State Coach Jim Valvano said. "He's not big enough to play his position, no way. So, all he does is go out there and kill you. Absolutely kill you."
"There's only two players in this league who have consistently been great against us," said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski. "One is Buck Williams, the other is Ralph Sampson. Buck's intensity is incredible."
When Duke came to Cole Field House to play Maryland for the first time since last year's ACC tournament final, Williams growled at Duke center Mike Tissaw when they shook hands before the game.
"You talk to Buck off the court he's the nicest guy you'll ever meet," Driesell said. Thank you sir, that kind of thing. But you get him on the court and he'd like to kill you."
After watching Williams thoroughly outplay Sampson in the ACC tournament semifinals, guard Greg Manning said, "Sometimes I look at him and I'm just thankful he's on my side. On that court he's just as glad to tear your head off as shake your hand."
Driesell calls Williams his horse. This season, surrounded by players having seesaw seasons, Williams has been a model of consistency, averaging 16.5 points and 11.6 rebounds a game. He has scored in double figures in 24 of 29 games and rebounded in double figures 19 times.
Those are statistics Williams is proud of. But when he looks back at this season years from now, he doesn't know what he'll see.
"It may be that I look back on it as the year when we were picked to do great things and didn't," he said. "That's why the NCAAs are so important. gFor this season to be a success we have to make the final four.
"I'm not sure what went wrong with us this year. Part of it was thinking we didn't have anything to prove. Before the season everyone said we were the best, No. 1 team in the country, all that.
"I think we started believing some of that and maybe we became prima donnas at times. The Virginia game Friday was one of the few times all year everybody was totally into the game. That's the way we were all the time last year."
The low point for Williams, as for the team, was the North Carolina game in College Park in which the Terps were booed by their own fans.
"It hurt me because it was a loss to North Carolina and I have to go home and face that," he said. "But what really hurt was hearing the fans here boo us. It hurt to hear people getting on Coach. In North Carolina no one ever gets on Dean Smith when he loses a few games.
"I don't understand why Coach has to put up with that. People around here, one day they're all for you, the next day they're not. If they aren't Terrapin fans 100 percent of the time, they shouldn't be at all."
But that doesn't really affect Williams. Few things do. He is very much a player driven from the inside. His face is a mask that hides deep-seated emotions that push him to outwork players who may have more talent than he does.
"When I put on those sneakers," he said, "I can't let anybody get in my way. There are too many things I have to do, too many goals I haven't reached yet.
"But," he added, his voice soft, "I'll get there."
Driesell complained about his team being only the sixth seed in the Mideast regional yesterday. "If we're not one of the top 16 teams in the country then I don't know basketball," he said.
If the Terps beat Tennessee-Chattanooga Thursday they will play on national television against Indiana Saturday starting at 3:38 p.m.
Driesell said he is almost tempted to skip the Thursday game in order to see his son Chuck play in the high school state championships at Cole Field House. Driesell will charter a plane out of Dayton to get home if his son's Springbrook team reaches Saturday's state championship final.