No one understands or relishes the link between Maryland basketball and the ACC like Gary Williams. He played for the Terps against Billy Cunningham and Bob Verga. He coached his alma mater against Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski.
While competing against those giants, Williams elevated himself and Maryland. He guided the Terps to ACC and national championships. He forged fierce rivalries and developed All-Americans such as Walt Williams, Joe Smith and Juan Dixon.
In short, he made the program matter again, building upon the considerable achievements of his predecessor once-removed, Lefty Driesell. Maryland became Garyland.
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"The ACC during the time I was there was probably the premier basketball conference in the country," Williams said, "and for a lot of Maryland people I'm sure there's just great memories. There was always great games every year, and win or lose, you enjoyed the competition."
Few competed like Williams, witness the beet-red face and sweat-soaked suits. Determined to crack the Duke-North Carolina grip on power, he led the Terps to 11 consecutive NCAA tournaments from 1994-2004, the third-longest streak in ACC history behind, naturally, the Tar Heels' 27 from 1975-2001 and the Blue Devils' current run, which will extend to 19 this season.
Williams' 2001 Terps advanced to the Final Four before claiming the 2002 national title, landmarks that seemed unattainable when he played for Bud Millikan from 1965-67, but goals that Driesell, a former Newport News High School coach, made possible soon thereafter.
Alas, despite that rich heritage, university officials decided in 2012 to abandon the conference of which the Terps were charter members. This hoping — praying? — that the Big Ten's projected television windfalls would counter years of fiscal mismanagement.
"From a business standpoint, it's probably a good thing," said Driesell, who also will attend Sunday's game. "From a sports standpoint and all, I think it's ridiculous."
Who knows if the Big Ten will erase Maryland's debts, but Driesell is right. Otherwise, the move is pure folly.
Driesell led the Terps from 1969-86 and made them nationally relevant with players such as Tom McMillen, John Lucas and Albert King. He coached in the ACC's signature game: Top-ranked North Carolina State's 103-100 overtime conquest of fifth-ranked Maryland in the 1974 ACC tournament final, a classic that determined the conference's lone NCAA bid.
Following Driesell's messy exit in the wake of Len Bias' death, Bob Wade drove the Terps into a ditch from 1987-89, after which Williams rescued them.
"The tradition of the ACC, that was something special," said Williams, a finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame's 2014 class. "Now it's up to the people involved to build a new tradition, and that can be done. You see games like Duke and Syracuse and you can see a new tradition starting there."
Exactly. After 34 seasons in the storied Big East, and enduring moments against the likes of Georgetown and St. John's, Syracuse arrived in the ACC this season and staged memorable games against Duke.
"That's what Maryland has to do now," Williams said, "is develop traditions … They don't have to replace anything. They don't have to replace ACC traditions."
Maryland-Virginia was not, and is not, a marquee rivalry. But the schools' geographic proximity and annual season-ending matchups created plenty of tension and memories. Also, from 1975-86 the series matched Driesell against Cavaliers coach Terry Holland, who played for and coached under Driesell at Davidson.
Ralph Sampson's final home game, in 1983, was an 83-81 victory over the Terps. In 2002, Williams and Maryland closed venerable Cole Field House with a 112-92 win over Virginia. Four years later, the Cavaliers said goodbye to University Hall with a 71-70 loss to the Terps.
Each was more event than game. Sampson hit the decisive shot to conclude a four-year run in which Virginia went 51-2 at home; Dixon-led Maryland portended its national championship with a 69-point second half witnessed by virtually every living Terps letterman; walk-on Billy Campbell hit two 3-pointers as the Cavaliers rallied from 18 down, only to fall short in their U-Hall farewell.
Williams also recalls the first ACC game in which he played, a 61-59 defeat at Virginia that eventually cost the Terps a share of the 1965 regular-season title. He remembers that as a Lafayette assistant coach his team defeated Virginia and Barry Parkhill, now a close friend, in the 1972 National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Sunday? Maryland (16-14, 8-9 ACC) has lost six consecutive games in the series, including a 61-53 setback in Charlottesville last month, while fifth-ranked Virginia (25-5, 16-1) arrives as the conference's outright regular-season champion.
But the Comcast Center will be a challenging venue for the Cavaliers, dripping nostalgia as Maryland celebrates its ACC past with posters, autograph sessions and tributes.
"Our games with Virginia, Duke, Carolina," Williams said, "those things will never go away. … Looking forward to the future but you never forget the memories."