It was about three years ago this past July, towards the tail end of the recruiting period, when I sat down for what I had hoped would be a mellow night of playing Blackjack at the Palms in Las Vegas.
Another national writer sat next to me and Gonzaga coach Mark Few was a bystander, watching, making conversation and eventually being entertained behind us.
The fun started for Few as soon as Matthew Lisiewski came along.
I had no clue who Lisiewski was, but there was this young guy I’d never met prior – sitting at the table with us – who came at me hard.
For two straight hours.
You see, I had become like so many others following Gary Williams’ NIT appearance in 2008 (his third in the past four years). I was one of those who piled on, who said it was time for the future Hall of Famer to call it quits.
That the game had passed him by.
But Lisiewski, who had apparently recognized me and was employed as Maryland’s video coordinator (he was also Williams’ de facto driver in Las Vegas from gym to gym), was sticking up for his guy.
He came to the aid of his boss.
He didn’t have to do it. He could have sat in silence, but he did exactly what Williams would have done. He went directly at the issue head-on with no B.S.
It became so frustrating that, at one point, I even offered to “buy” him off the table.
While I stood true to many of my beliefs regarding Williams, including the fact that his lack of effort on the recruiting trail would ultimately result in his demise, Lisiewski reminded me of one aspect that had been overlooked by so many.
Williams did it the right way.
``Gary has coached with more integrity than I’ve ever seen in this profession,” said Ohio State associate head coach Dave Dickerson, who spent nine years on Williams’ staff at Maryland.
Sure, Williams missed out on no shortage of the local studs. The list is endless: ‘Melo, Rudy Gay, Kevin Durant, Ty Lawson, etc.
Instead, Williams brought what many considered mediocre talent to College Park and coached them up. He never sold out, instead developing players and, in doing so, proving himself as one of the truly elite X’s and O’s guys in the business.
``Gary wanted guys that were a better fit for him and the program than the best players in the country,” Dickerson said.
His Terps won 32 games in 2002 and cut down the nets. The best player on that team, Juan Dixon, isn’t even in the NBA.
Williams was old school and he’ll be missed. Personally, I’ll miss him because he was the guy who indoctrinated me to college hoops in his four seasons with Boston College in the mid 80s.
Then it was off to Ohio State for three seasons before being hired to clean up the mess that Bob Wade left behind at Williams’ alma mater.
It took Williams a few years, but 14 NCAA tournaments later, he has left the program in far better shape than when he found it back in 1990.
Williams was fiery and loved to prepare his guys for the games as much as anything else.
He’s 66 and recently got married. The word from his close friends is that he didn’t want to coach into his 70s.
``He’s always wanted to go out this way,” Dickerson said. ``Still having his health and being able to do the other things.”
He didn’t enjoy the AAU scene, dealing with middle men or having to fly across the country to show his face in front of a bunch of 16 and 17-year-old high school kids.
Let’s be real: Maryland wasn’t going to contend for Final Four’s again as long as Williams was running the program. Williams could coach, but the talent level just wasn’t high enough.
The final straw, according to his friends, came with Jordan Williams – the Terps star big man who has decided to ink with agent Andy Miller and leave after his sophomore season despite the likelihood that he won’t be a first-round pick in June’s NBA Draft.
Now the other Williams, the one who has led the Terps to 14 NCAA tournament appearances in the last 18 seasons, has also concluded his career in College Park.
One that will ultimately land him in the Hall of Fame.