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Oct. 26, 2011
By Bill Hass
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (theACC.com) – One of the sights that will take the most getting used to in the ACC this season is not having Gary Williams anxiously prowling the Maryland sideline.
For 22 seasons Williams wore his passion on his sleeve, exhorting his players, exchanging pleasantries with officials and leaving an indelible imprint on the Terrapins’ basketball program. Before stepping away after last season, he won 461 games there, 192 in the ACC, two ACC championships and one national championship.
Not to mention the admiration of his fellow coaches.
“Gary has a real place in the history of the league,” said Seth Greenberg of Virginia Tech. “As a player, then leaving maybe one of the best jobs in the country (Ohio State) to come back to help resurrect his alma mater.
“Gary is a guy who did it his way. He was very comfortable in his own skin, he never compromised, and he still won at the highest level. I’m going to miss competing against him.”
Into this void steps Mark Turgeon, one of four head coaches new to the ACC this season. Turgeon brings his own credentials – his teams at Wichita State and Texas A&M won 22 or more games in seven of the last eight seasons – and his own style.
“I’ve said many times, I don’t ever think about Gary,” Turgeon said last week at Operation Basketball, “I think about doing the best job I can. All due respect to Gary, I want to be a legend. I want to be the next Gary Williams at Maryland. That’s why I chose Maryland; I think it’s a great place and it makes me a better coach.”
It will be different, of course, but that’s the nature of a coaching change.
“Mark knows who he is and how he wants to play,” Greenberg said. “Gary’s team
was a roadrunner, as good in transition as any team we played against. I think Mark’s team, studying them (on film) in the summer, they’re going to be physically tough defensively, they’re going to value the ball, they’re going to grind you. It just shows there’s a lot a ways to win.”
Putting in his offensive and defensive systems and running practice his way has taken patience, Turgeon said. He said he initially met some resistance from a couple of players, but they’re learning to create the habits he’s trying to instill.
“We will lose a couple games this year that we probably wouldn’t lose if this was my fourth year,” he said. “I hope I’m wrong. Next year the core group of guys who are back will help me teach the incoming class and then those two classes will teach the next one.
“We’ve got a young team and they’ve got to understand that every possession counts and every possession matters and teaching that is a hard thing to do. You don’t want to go through losing to teach that.”
At Miami, the Hurricanes are adapting to Jim Larranaga, who coached George Mason to the NCAA Tournament five times, including the Final Four in 2006.
“In any transition it’s probably most difficult for the players because they’re in the learning stages,” he said. “And when you’re learning, you’re thinking, and with basketball you don’t want to be thinking, you just want to play instinctively. Right now they haven’t learned what they’re supposed to be instinctive about.”
Larranaga, once an assistant at Virginia under Terry Holland, said he has long believed the ACC is the best basketball conference in the country. He’s ready for the challenge of changing the basketball culture at Miami.
“We need to create the enthusiasm to accomplish what we really want to,” he said. “But eventually, the way to do that is to make yourself relevant in the national scheme, put yourself in position to do well in the NCAA Tournament and possibly win a national championship.
“People have rallied around the Miami Heat because of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. They created a buzz second to none in the country. Can we do that? Well, we’re going to try.”
Mark Gottfried was out of coaching for two years before being hired at NC State. He believes that time (spent working more than 100 TV games for ESPN) has made him a better coach.
“I took the Alabama job when I was 32 years old,” he said. “I feel that now, at 47, I’m in a much different point than I was then. What I enjoyed was watching coaches work, watching them practice, sitting in staff meetings, talking to assistant coaches, watching teams and coaches prepare for one another. It’s like I had a two-year clinic just watching and talking in a very relaxed kind of way.
“I think what happens is (that) you begin to see things through a much clearer lens. When I was at Alabama you had to be Barnum and Bailey a little bit. I spent a lot of time and energy running to every dog and pony show and every rubber chicken dinner there was. Once you step away, you realize what’s important here is coaching my team, that’s it.”
Brian Gregory, whose Dayton teams won 22 or more games the last four seasons, said he was glad to be in a league where basketball is intrinsically important.
“This is a prestige-laden league that has a national brand when it comes to the premier basketball conference in the country,” he said. “With that comes the spotlight of the media. It’s all part of what makes us special. Basketball is important at every single institution. It’s not like that in every conference.”
Gregory’s premise is to build a team where everything is interconnected – taking pride in sharing the ball on offense and always helping to cover the ball on defense.
“The pace of practice has been a big difference and it’s going to pay dividends,” Gregory said. “And I have to understand as well, I want these guys to get it yesterday. I’m not old but I’m not the 36-year-old who got the job at Dayton. I’ve grown in my patience and my ability to understand the process as well.”
SECOND TIME AROUND: Three other coaches are in their second seasons. Brad Brownell said it took some time before his systems took root last year at Clemson. Once the team won a few games with his style, it developed confidence, eventually leading to a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“We had some problems early, we had a few periods of selfishness,” he said. “The offense demands you be unselfish; you have to be willing to make the pass and share the ball, and there were times when we did not do that. (Eventually) you could see it really taking hold. I thought once they got it, they really enjoyed it and played the last 2½ months really well.”
At Wake Forest, Jeff Bzdelik believes progress will be measured not only in the win-loss record, but in the way the team conducts itself.
“The bottom line in this business is winning and losing and there’s got to be significant improvement there, no question,” he said. “But at the same time, representing the school the right way, development of our players and having them get better and winning back the campus are important. There’s a lot of ways to judge the direction of your program.”
Steve Donahue of Boston College said this year’s new crop of coaches shares one thing in common.
“All of them have been very successful at another place, usually a difficult place, and have earned this opportunity,” Donahue said. “These guys were all basically grinders who did it and I think they’re great coaches, I think the league is going to go up immensely over the next few years.”
AND THE THIRD SEASON: Virginia’s Tony Bennett begins his third season in the ACC but already ranks fifth in seniority.
“From the first year to the second year it’s a little better in terms of installing things,” he said, “but even the second to your third gets better because the majority of our kids are back. Last year we were systematically further ahead than our previous year and my hope is that as I continue to learn more about our guys this third year will be further ahead that way.”
COACH K CLOSES IN: Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski enters the season three wins shy of setting the all-time men’s record of 903 victories, surpassing his old coach at Army, Bob Knight.
“The main significance for me is to share the moment with Coach – with coach Knight,” Krzyzewski said. “You’ve probably heard me say this before – I love the fact that he was my coach, I was his point guard and we were the first two people to win 900 games at Division I men’s (programs). I think it’s really a testimony to him. Once you get past it I think people tend to forget what it is.”
Brad Brownell of Clemson said Krzyzewski’s ability to coach people is perhaps his greatest strength.
“He certainly is a good Xs and Os coach,” Brownell said, “but his ability to take really talented players – we all know they have great players at Duke – to manage them, to put them in position where they blend together as a team, play together as a team, is truly remarkable.”
BARNES EVEN BETTER: Roy Williams said Harrison Barnes should show improvement from his excellent freshman season for North Carolina.
“He is about 15 pounds stronger – I’m not even going to say heavier,” Williams said. “He worked extremely hard in the weight room, he’s a very focused individual and trying to be the best player he can be. We talked about being more efficient on the offensive end, shooting a higher percentage, getting to the free throw line more, rebounding more, being a better defender. Fifteen pounds stronger helps every one of those.”
ATTENTION TO DETAIL: Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton, whose roster includes six seniors and five juniors, said he doesn’t have to pull out any Vince Lombardi-type talks to keep his players focused.
“It’s like they’re coaching themselves,” he said. “They’re saying the things that we have tried to instill over the years, they’re giving it back to us and reinforcing it within themselves. I like how they’re challenging each other, I like the unselfish spirit, the aggressiveness.”
ALL BUT ONE: Virginia Tech, riddled by injuries last season, should have Dorenzo Hudson, J.T. Thompson and Cadarian Raines back at full strength. But they’re still missing Allen Chaney, who has not been cleared to play because of a medical condition.
“The one guy we’ll never get back that crushes me is Allen Chaney because he might have been the best player on the team,” said Seth Greenberg. “We’re doing the prudent thing in putting his long-term health at the top of our list.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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