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Successful 2006-07 season has Williams upbeat

May 09, 2007|by CHRIS CARTER / Staff Correspondent

Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams can take solace when he looks back at the 2006-07 season that ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

"Well, we made it farther than Duke," Williams said. "And we beat every North Carolina school in the (Atlantic Coast Conference)."

Comments like that one drew applause from the Terrapins faithful Monday night at Fountain Head Country Club. Williams spoke in front of members of the Terrapin Club, along with women's coach Brenda Frese, football coach Ralph Friedgen and athletic director Debbie Yow.

Williams talked about Maryland's success against its Carolina rivals - the Terps swept North Carolina teams for the first time in almost 75 years - and its 14th consecutive postseason appearance.

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Maryland went 2-0 against both Duke and North Carolina State and added wins against North Carolina and Wake Forest for a 6-0 mark. It is the first sweep of conference teams from the Tar Heel State since 1932-33.

"We know we can play with just about anybody," Williams said. "We showed just how good we can be."

Williams also addressed the issues facing the Terps next season - the biggest being departure of senior starters D.J. Strawberry, Ekene Ibekwe and Mike Jones, and reserves Will Bowers and Parrish Brown.

Those five seniors accounted for 44.4 points per game last season, meaning there will be holes to fill and roles to play for the next class of Terps. Williams pointed to the team's youth in second-year players Greivis Vazquez and Eric Hayes, and incoming freshmen Jeff Jones, Dino Gregory and Braxton Dupree.

Vazquez and Hayes will serve as the Terps' next backcourt tandem, and big men James Gist and Bambale Osby - both juniors - will command the paint.

"They're four guys that will be very productive for us," Williams said. "Vazquez is one of the better guards in the ACC and Eric Hayes saw a lot of time last year. And between James Gist and Bambale Osby, we have a solid post game."

Replacing lost talent is one thing. Replacing lost leadership is another. Strawberry had the reputation as a great leader, both on and off the court. Williams feels Vazquez has the potential to be the guy to fill that void.

"Believe it or not, Vazquez - even though he was only a freshman - has the qualities to be the leader of this team," Williams said. "As the primary ball-handler, that's something you want to have."

Vazquez had a breakout first season with the Terps, averaging almost 10 points and five assists per game. He twice had a double-double in points and assists and started 22 of the last 23 games.

Vazquez's game can only improve when he matches up against some of the world's best talent while playing for the Venezuelan national team this summer.

"I think Vazquez could be one of the better players to ever come to Maryland," Williams said.

Gist also has the opportunity to compete at the next level, as he was invited to try out for the U.S. national team, which is led by Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

n Williams voted in favor of the recent rule change extending the 3-point line by one foot to 20 feet, 9 inches. The change will take place in 2008-09.

"I hope it opens up post play a little bit and makes it tougher to double team," Williams said. "It shouldn't be the same as the high-school line. It will make guys be better shooters and it was a good rule change."

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