Maryland men’s basketball coach Kevin Willard delivered his opening remarks at the Terps’ media day at center court of Xfinity Center underneath a legion of banners won by past teams.
Each one hangs as a reminder of the pressure the program’s new head faces ahead of his inaugural season.
Aspirations of titles and trophies seem more unattainable than ever after Maryland’s losing regular season last year, the first since 1993. Despite that, Willard holds the same standards previous coaches have met to cement their place at the Terps’ home court.
“I think [the expectation is] going to be the same every year,” he said. “I think it’s gonna be the Big Ten championship, national championship. That’s the goal of this program … No other expectation is allowed.”
While Willard acknowledged that his objectives may be likelier in some years rather than others, he aims to reinvigorate a fanbase that came to substantially fewer games last season — the Terps’ attendance was their lowest since 2015. He hopes to do so by blending his vision for Maryland’s future with former coaches’ and players’ ideas.
“We wanted to embrace the tradition and the greatness of this program,” Willard said as he looked up at the Terps’ 2002 national championship banner. “I thought coming in, I really want to get the former players on board. Not that they weren’t, but I really want to embrace them for us.”
Since becoming the program’s leader, the coach has had former Maryland players visit to involve them in activities and listen to ideas that could improve player or alumni experience.
The Terps scrimmaged with recent graduates at Xfinity Center over the summer and were greeted by former players Greivis Vásquez and Len Elmore.
“It’s been really good,” senior Donta Scott said. “Especially him bringing old players back in and guys that used to be here … to just throw a picture in our mind that this is a place of greatness.”
While he’s incorporated others to invoke the Terps’ previous achievements, Willard’s also brought in three assistant coaches he “deeply respected” to help mold the program.
Grant Billmeier and Tony Skinn joined Maryland having worked with Willard at Seton Hall, while David Cox brings four years of collegiate head coaching experience at Rhode Island.
The trio agreed to one-year deals and will earn a combined $1.15 million in guaranteed salary, according to documents acquired by The Baltimore Sun.
“I have three of the best assistant coaches, and I have to thank Damon [Evans] because he understood that it was going to cost us a little bit of money and go out and get the best guys,” Willard said.
Skinn and Cox are also Maryland natives with experience with the area’s high schools and AAU teams. Their local ties have already fulfilled another way Willard aimed to reenergize fans — recruiting the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area.
“Our first couple recruits, we really tried to get local kids, just to kind of let the fanbase know that this area is huge to us,” Willard said. “We’re going to recruit it, we’re going to bring kids in, we’re going to make sure that they’re the stars, kind of what … I did at Seton Hall.”
Early additions included local guard Jahmir Young — the first DeMatha graduate to join the program in almost 20 years — and Frederick native Noah Batchelor, who joined the Terps as a freshman.
The Terps also secured three four-star commitments from Maryland and Virginia in their 2023 class — a group that’s ranked 10th in the nation by 247Sports.
“These kids in this area get unbelievable coaching from a very young age. It’s very unique,” Willard said of the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area. “The kids don’t transfer schools, they don’t transfer AAU programs. They get great coaching at the AAU level, and they get great coaching at the high school level.”
Willard brought in new players for his inaugural season that he believes complement the strengths of returning players such as Scott, Hakim Hart and Julian Reese.
The Terps could play at a higher tempo than Willard’s teams have played at in the past because they’re not “big and dominant” on the inside, the coach said. He feels the Terps can shoot the ball well and said his teams at Seton Hall slowed down over the last couple of years out of necessity due to injuries.
“We’re gonna play probably way too fast,” Willard said. “We’re going to shoot a ton of threes, we’re going to press.”
Willard admitted that “at times we won’t look good” due to the large batch of additions, and expects players will need to adjust to his style of play on the court.
But as he’s done with every aspect of Maryland since becoming the Terps’ coach in March, Willard and his new-look staff are “laying down the groundwork for the future,” one they hope adds banners to the Xfinity Center rafters.