WALKING OUT : Maryland’s Big Basketball Turnover Puts Wade’s Communication Talents to Test
Jerrod Mustaf is like most anyone else with at least a passing interest in the University of Maryland basketball team. “It makes you wonder,” Mustaf said. “Why are these people leaving?”
In little more than a year, six scholarship players (and several walk-ons) have left or say they are leaving the Maryland basketball team: Brian Williams, Mark Karver, Steve Hood, Phil Nevin, Andre Reyes and Ivan Powell.
Some were forced out. Others were begged to stay. Playing time was a factor for some, others said it was the atmosphere. Several players and their parents expressed frustration with what they perceived as a lack of communication between Coach Bob Wade and his players. Two parents said Wade was not as forthcoming in providing academic help and information as they would have liked.
“Kids leave for many reasons,” Wade said. “Whatever the reasons are, I respect their decision and I wish them well.”
Wade said he wants to move on with a team that will include three new recruits, all of whom have heard the reports of players leaving. The three, including Mustaf, are still enthusiastic that College Park is the best place to begin building their careers and shaping their adult lives.
Williams was the last and the most significant of the six to say he was leaving. The significance lies in his size (6 feet 10, 235 pounds) and talent (he averaged 12.2 points and six rebounds as a freshman), but most of all in the fact that he was Wade’s first prize recruit.
As Powell said, “That’s the guy.”
Since saying he was transferring and obtaining a release from his scholarship, Williams has told interviewers he is reconsidering his decision. Williams, who last year completed high school in Santa Monica, Calif., is back in the Los Angeles area, staying with friends. “He has not made a decision and there is not one coming any time soon,” Patricia Phillips, Williams’ mother, said recently. “He has the entire summer to make a decision and he’s going to take his time.”
Williams’ initial decision to transfer was something thought about a long time by him and his mother, a computer systems analyst in Palo Alto, Calif.
“My concerns throughout the season were what appeared to be a lack of team-building taking place,” Phillips said early in May. “A lack of players knowing what their roles were, being able to accept their roles and play their roles to the best of their ability. There was a lot of indication that wasn’t taking place. In my experience with working on projects, I’ve learned that if you’re not building a team, if people don’t understand their roles and the importance of their roles, then you will have dissension and you can’t build a cohesive unit. It was also apparent in the constant switching of players, and there never being any rhyme or reason as to why anyone was chosen for any given situation.”
Just before Maryland left for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., in early March, Williams had said he thought his development over the course of the year had been “mediocre.”
“There is what appears to be a deficiency in the development of not only Brian but in the other players, too,” Phillips said. “I saw it as a team concern. Brian had said at the end of the season that his development was mediocre. That, I think for the most part, applies to the whole team. It didn’t appear that anyone made any substantial growth over the course of the season.”
Of those players who left, Williams was the one for whom playing time was not an issue. He started 29 games (missing two with a sprained ankle) for Maryland during the 1987-88 season, which ended with a trip to the NCAA tournament, and averaged 28 minutes a game.
Phillips said one thing that bothered her was that Wade and his staff were not responsive enough to her requests for academic help for Williams in a particular class.
“Study skills, for example,” she said. “They weren’t getting information back to me as to what was available. Brian was having a problem with a class and I wanted to find someone who could make some observations about why . . . and what could be done about it. Brian said he was trying everything he knew. So then we needed someone with more expertise to observe him. I made several requests and I couldn’t get them to follow up.”
“That is false,” Wade said. “That was followed up by John Bowman and the academic support unit (on which Bowman serves).”
“John Bowman worked closely with Brian this past year, and I did as well,” said assistant athletic director Gerald Gurney, who heads the academic support unit. “I feel very confident that Brian was given a tremendous amount of academic support and I think he feels good about his progress.”
Phillips was not the only parent with an academic concern.
“I filled out a form requesting periodic reports on Mark, because I wanted to know how he was doing, especially at midterm,” said Audrey Karver, Mark’s mother. “Coach Wade said I had to fill out the form because this information is usually confidential. But I never received one of the reports. I spoke to the basketball office several times, but I never received one.”
Wade responded by saying, “I’m not going to get into all those accusations. All of that is handled by the academic support people, Dr. Gurney and Mr. Bowman. I’m very much involved in the academic progress of the people in my basketball program.”
Said Gurney, “I can’t comment on what Mrs. Karver said because I have never seen such a document.”
Men basketball players and any other athletes having academic difficulty are required to attend mandatory study hall.
“Mark said study halls are a joke,” Audrey Karver said. “The players are also at fault. The players should take advantage of that, but kids being what they are, they don’t.”
Mark Karver said he thought Wade was involved in players’ academic progress.
“If you got a 75 on a paper, he would say something like, ‘So, I see you got a 75 on that Spanish paper,’ ” Karver said. “He was real aware of academic progress.”
Asked if his mother was accurate on his appraisal of study halls, Karver said, “I don’t want to say anything about the academic programs.”
Another player described study halls this way: “We were supposed to go in and sign a list. But some guys would sign in, say they were going to the library and instead they would go back to the dorm.”
One of the first things Athletic Director Lew Perkins did when he took over last year was begin to rebuild an academic support system that many thought was deficient.
“For us to come in and be perfect is unrealistic, and we’re still looking three to five years from now,” Perkins said. “But the progress we’ve made is unbelievable, much more than I would have guessed. Even when the system is fully in place, people will sometimes slip through the cracks. We’ll just have to minimize the times that happens . . . but we’re a heck of a lot better than we were six or 12 months ago.”
Gurney, hired last fall, has worked hard to implement his system and said, “It would be unfair to portray this transition period as being something less than positive, because it has been positive. We now have more staff and we’ve spent more time, more energy and more money than at any time in the history of the University of Maryland.”
Gurney said the tutorial staff has increased from 30 persons to 94 and changes have been made in the monitoring system at study halls, adding that “it is not the coach’s responsibility to be at study table, though many times the basketball coaches are there.” As for athletes going to the dorm when they say they’re going to the library, Gurney said, “We can’t be held responsible for student-athletes being truthful.”
Mark Karver didn’t have problems with Wade off the court, calling him “personable.” It was on the court that there was difficulty. The 6-7, 195-pound Karver had played in 23 of Maryland’s 27 games in 1986-87 and Wade gave him the impression he would play more this year.
“There were no promises but he instilled confidence in me that I would play,” said Karver, who ended up playing in 12 games for a total of 52 minutes. Half of those minutes came in blowouts against East Carolina and Maryland Eastern Shore.
Like most any mother, Audrey Karver wanted to see her son play. What bothered her more than him being on the bench was the false hopes she said were created by Wade.
“I know a coach isn’t going to say, ‘You stink and you’ll never play,’ ” she said. “But there are more ways than one to skin a cat. You have to remember these are kids who think they can play. So when the big man tells you that you’ll play, you think it’s great.”
Karver, who will be transferring to George Washington, was the second of this year’s departing group. The first was Hood, heading for James Madison. Like Karver, Hood wasn’t happy with his playing time, but Hood was also uncomfortable with Wade.
“A lot of people were scared to say anything,” Hood said. “They were intimidated by Coach Wade and his personality.”
Hood was one of the first to speak up. He was thinking of transferring as far back as December. There was a long meeting at Hood’s home in New Carrollton, in which Wade talked Hood into staying.
“We met with Bob Wade early in the season and we talked about where Steve stood,” said Robert Hood, Steve’s father. “He didn’t make promises, so to speak. We questioned what would happen when (senior guard) Keith Gatlin came back (at midterm). Bob said that when Keith came back, Steve would still get quality playing time. That surely didn’t happen. When Keith came back, Steve went into the shadows. . . .
“Maybe at the time he (Wade) meant that,” Robert Hood said. “The whole time, it seemed like there was a communication barrier. . . . If he had said to Steve, ‘Keith is coming back and your playing time is going to decrease,’ that would have been one thing. Those kinds of things could have been discussed. . . . The problem I couldn’t quite understand was what was happening. I was trying to hang in there and help Steve deal with it. I was trying to understand what Bob Wade was doing.”
Gatlin returned in January and Hood’s playing time decreased. In Maryland’s first-round ACC tournament game against Georgia Tech--a game the Terrapins thought they needed to make the NCAA tournament--Hood never left the bench for the first time in his college career. In their last postseason meeting, Robert Hood--who said he had no problems with Wade’s academic vigilance--said he told Wade of a communication problem.
“I told him the communication factor was not there and that he should be talking with the kids and letting them know exactly what’s going on,” Robert Hood said. “He’s dealing with all types of personalities, all types of backgrounds, all types of kids. That’s important. It will go smoother if the kids understand what’s going on. They will respond to that. If you’re not able to communicate, they won’t understand and you’ll have a problem.”
Steve Hood said that players were “scared” to make mistakes for fear of being taken out.
“I don’t think people understood their roles,” Steve Hood said. “It was not defined. Each person, individually, was never told. It was never said, ‘You’re my scorer, you’re my rebounder.’ It was never specified in that way. That would have helped, because we could have been a much better team.”
Late last spring, Phil Nevin became the first player whose plans ran afoul of those of Wade. At the time, Nevin and his family said Wade was trying to take away Nevin’s scholarship, and when the dispute went public, Wade called it a misunderstanding. Perkins stepped in and said Nevin could have his scholarship but would not play on the team. Nevin stayed at Maryland for the fall semester, but transferred to Millersville (Pa.) University after Christmas.
“I don’t want to say anything negative about Bob Wade, but he can’t treat college adults as high school kids and expect them to be happy,” said the 6-11, 250-pound Nevin. “Perhaps he’s afraid that if he’s not the ultimate ruler, it won’t work the way he wants it. Maybe he’s trying to reteach all the players to be like his sons.”
Nevin was reminded that after the drug and academic problems that surfaced in 1986, then-coach Lefty Driesell was criticized in some quarters for not being enough of a disciplinarian. “There is a difference between being disciplined and being ruled by a militant,” Nevin said.
Andre Reyes was another center Wade inherited from Driesell. A 6-11, 200-pounder from Manning, S.C., Reyes was recruited by Driesell but never played for him. And as a freshman on the 1986-87 Maryland team, which had 6-7 Derrick Lewis at center, Reyes averaged just 5.6 minutes.
“He did question why he played hard in practice and then didn’t get in the game,” said Gunter Sweat, Reyes’ high school coach. Reyes was in Manning recently, and several messages were left with Sweat. He said that Reyes did not want to comment.
In Reyes’ situation, Wade and Maryland officials found him a place to play--with former Maryland assistant Sherman Dillard, now on the California staff under Coach Lou Campanelli.
“He wanted to get into a situation where he might have more playing time,” Campanelli said. “I think he enjoyed himself at Maryland, but Williams was coming in and he didn’t play that much as a freshman. He’s doing well academically. We’re pleased with his progress and delighted to have him.”
The last of the six and the first one to leave was Ivan Powell, though some of that was his own doing. The 6-3, 200-pound guard from Hartford, Conn., had been at Mattatuck Community College for two years before coming to Maryland. He, too, was recruited by, but never played for, Driesell.
The same five players--Derrick Lewis, Dave Dickerson, Hood, Teyon McCoy and John Johnson--started every game for Maryland in 1986-87. Powell was the substitute who played most, averaging 11.8 minutes.
“I had a lot of factors and it wasn’t focused on one thing,” Powell said of his leaving. “I wanted to come closer to home. My parents were getting up in age. Coach Wade is a great guy and I enjoyed playing for him, even though I had a problem with my playing time.”
Powell had academic problems and flunked out of school in the spring semester.
“Second semester my grades did suffer, simply because I wasn’t concentrating on school,” Powell said. “I was concentrating on a lot of things I shouldn’t have been concentrating on. I paid the price and screwed up, but now I’m back on track.”
Powell was hoping to transfer to the University of Connecticut, but his academic situation prevented that. So this past year, he returned to Mattatuck to improve his grades. Now he’s hoping to go to the University of Hartford in the fall.
“We had plenty of disagreements but I’m not one to hold a grudge,” Powell said. “We just didn’t agree on a lot of occasions. But he’s the boss, so I had to take my body somewhere else.”
Wade’s second recruiting class will arrive on campus in September. That class is made up of Jerrod Mustaf, Walt Williams and Jesse Martin.
“Jesse didn’t blink an eye,” said Ken Still, Martin’s coach at English High School in Boston, of the transfers. “He said he’s going there and he’ll contribute the best he can. You want people to be satisfied but you can’t please everybody. All you can do is instill the best knowledge you have and then hope they fall in line. Jesse will find out all the details when he gets down there, but he’s really happy with his decision.”
Martin, a 6-4 guard, declined to comment on the departure of prospective teammates but said, “I’m really excited to be going to Maryland and I’m looking forward to a good four years there.”
Walter Williams (no relation to Brian) is the 6-8 All-Met from Maryland’s Crossland High School. “I feel confident about my choice,” he said, " . . . I’m not concerned at all.”
All three recruits come with solid, even outstanding credentials, but Mustaf is the star.
“I’ll stick with my decision,” said Mustaf, the 6-10 forward from DeMatha. “Someday, I might go to a job and I may not get along with my boss. But we’ll try to communicate and work it out. Part of growing up is learning to communicate. Maybe Brian didn’t learn that. But if five more people left, I’d still go because it’s the best situation for me.”
Just as Brian Williams’ mother takes great interest in her son, Mustaf’s father, Sharr, was heavily involved in his son’s recruitment. Sharr Mustaf said he knew Williams was unhappy as far back as September, but was still surprised he left and was disturbed by his criticism of Wade.
“That was a slap in the face to Bob Wade,” Sharr Mustaf said. “I’m no basketball wizard but I could see that Brian improved. I realize that Bob Wade is new to his craft at the college level, but you have to give Bob more time. I think he’ll be one of the top coaches in the conference.”
Wade still bristles when the subject of transfers comes up. It angers him that people still want to talk about it.
“I’m not going to get into a great debate,” Wade said. “I’m not getting into who said what to whom and all of that. People make decisions. Whatever their reasoning might be, I respect them and wish them well.”