Allegany Communications Sports

Beginning with the private jet into College Park and cheerleaders and a pep band at the airport, to a grand tour of Xfinity Center and the University of Maryland campus for the entire family, Kevin Willard’s first day on the job culminated with an introductory press conference at his new home arena (open to the public with free parking) and his promise to “bring back the swag” of Maryland basketball, and to return it to winning at a high national level.

And that wasn’t even the best part.

Maryland donors kicked in as well and made sure the university had reached the needed $40 million goal to build a new basketball/performance center, which should be ready to go in about 18 months. As Gary Williams said recently, “Why do you need a practice facility when any kid would love to play in a great building like Xfinity? Because that’s just the way it is today …”

And it is, as Maryland is one of the few major programs in college basketball that does not yet have the practice facility that is so coveted and needed in the recruiting process. Which is, of course, why Kevin Willard is here to begin with.

Speaking of recruiting (see how I did that?), the Maryland buzz in the DMV, the very best high school/AAU region in the world, received an enormous boost with the hiring of Willard. Not only that, Willard’s first hire was to reunite with assistant coach Tony Skinn, who knows the DMV inside and out, and the word is the rest of the new staff will be very DMV-oriented. Maybe a prominent high-school coach from the DMV for the staff? We’ll see.

All told, from this perspective, it’s an exciting time for University of Maryland basketball. Kevin Willard is a guy who won at Seton Hall when not a lot of fans outside of South Orange, N.J. know where or who Seton Hall is.

When he says nobody will outwork him or his team, I believe him, and based on his history, he is going to make Maryland one of the hardest-working defensive teams in the Big Ten, which is where success begins. And he says he is now in a place where he can play an up-tempo offense, because he will have the means to do so, which weren’t always available at his stops at Iona and Seton Hall.

The feeling here is Kevin Willard brings all of the qualities Maryland basketball needs in its head coach – he is a builder; he has made every program he has coached better and stronger than it was when he arrived. He has coaching pedigree in his blood, as his father, Ralph Willard, is the former head coach at Western Kentucky, Pittsburgh and Holy Cross, and he is part of the Rick Pitino coaching tree (as they say).

His hiring by Maryland has been universally hailed by the national basketball community, with the consensus being what should annually be a top-10, top-15 program nationally once again has a top 10 to top 15 head basketball coach.

The Entitleds (for some reason), which is what I began to call a certain segment of the Maryland fan base when Ralph (7 bowl games in 10 years) Friedgen was run out of town, are already barking, though. They wanted a big name, they say. They wanted some charisma, they say. They want caviar and scrambled eggs served in bed as well, I suppose.

As for the big names, neither John Wooden nor Red Auerbach were interested – I checked. Secondly, nearly everybody in the college basketball universe believes Kevin Willard is one of the best coaches in the country.

And the charisma? Charisma is like team chemistry. It comes with grit, hard work and with winning. Did Gary Williams light up a room with shining magnetism the minute he walked into a room in his early days in College Park? No, only Lefty Driesell has been able to do that at Maryland.

But Gary Williams was never interested in projecting a false charisma, say the way the vain Pitino likely is. Gary was interested in hard work and in restoring his school to the greatness he had believed it should always reach from the time he was an undergraduate student and basketball player at Maryland.

He did just that, and what do you know? Gary Williams walks into a room now and it’s EF Hutton time. The room absolutely stops.

You’ve either got it or you don’t, and if you have it, you’ve got to put it out there if you ever want to take something somewhere, and Kevin Willard put it out there on Tuesday when, at his introductory press conference, he said he was here to compete for championships – national championships.

Pay attention. There seem to be more similarities here than a lot of people want to allow themselves to believe.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT