A Cole regular remembers

Jack Zane: The man whose flattop has been a familiar sight at Cole Field House for decades takes a walk down memory lane.

College Basketball

March 03, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- It's one of the neat twists around Maryland basketball's farewell to Cole Field House: The man who has witnessed more than a thousand Terps games, seen every great player from Gene Shue to Juan Dixon, had never taken in a tip-off before he came to the campus.

Jack Zane is familiar from hundreds of Terps telecasts, the burly fellow with the flattop whom you saw keeping score on ESPN Classic's replay of the 1974 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final against N.C. State, or behind the Maryland bench at Florida State on Wednesday night.

He is in two Halls of Fame and currently serves Maryland as the executive director of the Walk of Fame that will adorn the Comcast Center, but basketball was a novelty to Zane when he was discharged from the Navy and arrived at Maryland on the G.I. Bill in 1953, two years before Cole was to open. Zane graduated from Anne Arundel County's Southern High in 1948, when the school was in Lothian and it didn't have the basketball tradition it does now.

"First game I ever saw was in Ritchie Coliseum," Zane said. "I had never seen a basketball game, because my high school didn't have a gym."

Zane worked his way through Maryland, and his first job there was as a radio dispatcher for the campus police, when the entire security operation worked out of the brick gatehouse that still sits at the main entrance off Route 1 to Campus Drive. He was the sports editor of The Diamondback until he landed a part-time job clipping hometown newspapers for Joe F. Blair, the polite publicist.

Zane even helped Maryland during the six years in the 1960s when he was the sports information director at George Washington University. He kept Kentucky fans out of the Cole press room during the 1966 Final Four and typed the basketball play-by-play at his alma mater if there weren't any conflicts. After 1969, there were none, as Zane served as Maryland's sports information director until 1988, when he became ticket manager.

Getting Maryland basketball in the news was never a problem in the 1970s, although working with coach Lefty Driesell alternated between a dream and a nightmare. Midnight Madness began at Byrd Stadium with a timed distance run in 1971. Driesell said it was a motivational ploy, but Zane knows better.

"It wasn't done in secrecy; it was announced and people were there," Zane said. "Let's put it this way: If I wasn't there and it didn't get in the paper, I would be ducking Lefty."

Zane goaded Driesell into talking to the media after a famous game-ending brawl at South Carolina in 1971, which led to a war of words that hyped the Terps' first big win at Cole in nearly a decade.

He soothed feelings when Driesell's staff got into a cursing match with Dean Smith's that nearly turned violent, but words are not what he remembers coming out of the mouth of North Carolina's record-setting coach.

"Dean used to sit on the bench and smoke," Zane said. "There was no rule against it. You know who he used to bum cigarettes from? Judy, my wife."

When asked about Cole, Smith mentioned Zane and Blair before any players or his 30 wins there.

"I smoked until I gave them up in '88, and I'll never forget Joe Blair and I going out the back door to light up before games," Smith said. "We'd have a smoke together right before I went in to our locker room to talk to my team one last time before introductions."

Zane is 71, but he didn't dwell on the past when asked to rank the biggest Maryland win he has seen over his 47 seasons at Cole.

"That Duke game last week [Feb. 17]," Zane said, "that was probably the most important game I've ever seen here."

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