A Seat in the Bleachers: Patsos has a big fan in his corner
There has never been anything ostentatious about Gary Williams.
He frequently opted for dark suit, white shirt and solid red tie on the sideline at Maryland.
On Tuesday afternoon, he took off a black windbreaker to reveal a white golf shirt with “SIENA” in gold and green near the left shoulder, like staffers wear.
So your eye, naturally, is drawn to the ring.
It’s big. There is a large red gem in the middle.
“Last night, there was a nice reception, so I brought it out for that, polished it up,” he said with a bit of a grin and a shrug.
Williams was in town Monday and Tuesday as a guest of his longtime assistant, Jimmy Patsos, the new Siena head coach.
The Saints are rough around the edges as the program digs its way out of a stretch of three straight losing seasons, none worse than last year’s 8-24.
If they are to turn things around under Patsos, it will be with a substantial Baltimore/Washington D.C. influence, just as Siena during the Fran McCaffery years took on characteristics that reflected Philadelphia.
The Terrapins won the 2002 national championship, and two years later, Patsos was off to his first job as a head coach, at Loyola in Baltimore. He likes to expose his players to historical and cultural landmarks when they’re on the road; on Tuesday, he brought history and basketball culture to the Alumni Recreation Center in the form of his former boss, winner of 668 college games.
Williams retired in 2012, so he has time for trips like this, and was happy to help out at practice. He believes his friend Patsos is the man to get the program back on track, and demonstrated as much by putting in a recommendation call to athletic director John D’Argenio when Siena was looking for Mitch Buonaguro’s replacement.
“If there’s a guy who can get a community really involved in a team, Jimmy is that guy,” Williams said. “To do that in Baltimore . . . Baltimore’s never been a college basketball town. Jimmy had that place packed and got a lot of people involved who were never involved before, and I think that’s one of his strengths. People feel like they’re part of this program.”
Patsos joked about how much influence Williams has had on his life and career — “I didn’t get married until he did” — but it’s no secret that Siena will attempt to be a mid-major version of Williams’ Terrapins, perhaps not in overall talent, but in playing style and in how Patsos goes about his business.
He was in College Park for 13 years, from 1991-2004.
It took several years for Patsos to get those elements to fully translate at Loyola, traditionally a lacrosse school that won one basketball game the season before he arrived.
The Greyhounds won 49 games the last two seasons.
Now, Patsos comes to a place with distinct built-in advantages for the basketball coach, which aren’t difficult for Williams, who has a new $125 million court named after him at Maryland, to recognize.
“Just looking at it from a coaching perspective, I always liked going to a place where it’s been done before, because that means it can be done, and I think Jimmy looks at that challenge, to get it back to where it was,” Williams said.
“Right away, he said, ‘That’s the job you’ve got to try and get,’ ” Patsos said. “It’s a basketball job, great city . . . remember, he coached in Columbus, which is the capital of Ohio, and he said even though Ohio State’s bigger than us, it’s great being with a team in a capital region.”
Williams and Maryland know a little bit about Siena because they played each other during the Terrapins’ 2002 tournament run.
Coached by Rob Lanier, Siena beat Alcorn State in the play-in game, then hung tough for awhile against Maryland, the top seed in the tournament, before succumbing to Juan Dixon’s 29 points and losing, 85-70, at the MCI Center in Washington.
Scouting reports are divvied up among the assistants, and in this case, Patsos was responsible for the Siena scout.
“The first thing you remember is we walked out and couldn’t believe how many Siena people were there,” Patsos said. “It was in Washington, D.C., our home, and Siena had an unbelievable number of people.”
“I’ll never forget that day,” Williams said. “That Siena game didn’t start until, like, quarter to 10. I remember listening to all the games, all day long, about how the No. 1 seed had never lost a first-round game.
“So by the time that game started, we were all really nervous. The players were nervous, too. Siena was right there, and then we played really well in the second half.”
Siena also played Maryland in 2006, losing, 94-75, with a team that had a sophomore named Kenny Hasbrouck and by far the greatest freshman class ever to come to Siena.
It was McCaffery’s second season, and would become the first of four straight with at least 20 wins.
The Saints bottomed out under Mitch Buonaguro, and now seek to recapture the gleam that made them one of the darlings of the NCAA tournament for three straight years.
Williams maintained an understated presence during practice — “That’s Jimmy’s team” — but jumped into a few drills and addressed the team beforehand.
Surrounding him in a semicircle, they took turns stating their names and where they’re from, not unlike the scenes with Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks in “Miracle.”
The wide-ranging locations included Inglewood, Calif.; Durham, N.C.; Lagos, Nigeria . . .
A few of the freshmen are from Baltimore.
Then Patsos and his mentor went about the business of examining each facet, and polishing.