- The Washington Times
Tuesday, March 22, 2022

COLLEGE PARK — Kevin Willard could use a beer.

“I really like hanging out with anyone that likes to have a beer. And if anybody wants to have one in about an hour,” Willard joked as he looked at his watch, “I’d appreciate it.”

After a whirlwind few days — from his Seton Hall Pirates losing in the NCAA Tournament’s first round Friday, to being announced as Maryland’s new men’s basketball coach on Monday, to arriving here after a full day of meet-and-greets — it’s easy to understand why Willard’s a bit exhausted. 

But that’s fine by him, because College Park is where he wanted to be.

“I got offered four other jobs this year. I was very blessed,” Willard said. “Nothing was the University of Maryland. This is a top-10 college basketball program.”

Amid an orchestrated setup replete with cheerleaders, a pep band, top Terrapins boosters and university leadership, Willard was officially introduced to the Maryland faithful at Xfinity Center Tuesday night.

“Today marks the beginning of the next great chapter in the proud history of Maryland athletics,” athletic director Damon Evans said.

Evans said Willard was his top choice in the search to replace Mark Turgeon, who resigned in December, and Maryland was similarly Willard‘s ideal destination. 

“From the beginning, Kevin was at the top of our list,” Evans said. “He stood out because of the quality of the entire body of his work.”

Willard comes to Maryland after 12 seasons leading Seton Hall. The former Rick Pitino disciple finished 225-161 as Pirates coach, including a Big East tournament championship in 2016 and a regular season championship in 2020.

Evans also thanked interim head coach Danny Manning, who he said “simply did a remarkable job” managing the team under difficult circumstances.

“His professionalism and his grace is something I will never forget,” Evans said.

Maryland officials used the event as an opportunity to announce a new, $40 million basketball practice facility for both the men’s and women’s teams. The facility will be named after longtime university donor Barry Gossett.

Evans said construction would begin early next year and take approximately 18 months to complete.

“Athletics at Maryland is more than just a front door,” said university President Darryl Pines, who described how the Terrapins’ national championship in 2002 helped electrify the whole university, citing a rise in applications and Maryland’s ascension as a top-tier research institution. He said he hopes for something similar with Willard at the helm.

Willard talked about building on the success of Basketball Hall of Famer and former Maryland coach Gary Williams.

“What we are going to do is bring back that swagger … That Joe Smith, Stevie Francis, Steve Blake … Juan Dixon” Willard said. “We are gonna bring back that passion, that energy that coach Williams coached with, that his players played with.”

He plans to reconnect the Maryland program with the Washington-Baltimore region’s rich basketball scene, promising a staff ‘heavy’ on area natives.

“I have a very good understanding of what we need to do to recruit this area and the type of guys I need on staff,” Willard said. “My staff will reflect what this area is.”

• George Gerbo can be reached at ggerbo@washingtontimes.com.

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