In Terps' new house, Driesell feted for what he built at Cole

Former coach is given ball, plaque in ceremony

College Basketball

January 31, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - He walked to center court, bantering with the cheerleaders who escorted him there. He flashed his famous victory sign several times and was serenaded with one last chorus of "Amen."

Lefty Driesell was back where he belonged, at a school he helped put on the college basketball map. It was not Cole Field House, where the former Maryland coach was noticeably absent when the Terrapins played their final game there in March.

But Comcast Center was good enough for Driesell.

"A lot of people made a big deal of that," Driesell said last night, after being honored with a halftime ceremony during the Maryland-North Carolina State game. "To tell you the truth, I was a little surprised, but I wasn't hurt. Everybody has their agenda.

"They had their plans for that night, and we [Georgia State] were playing in the finals of our tournament the night before, and we lost by one point to keep us out of the NCAAs. I was kind of upset anyway. I don't know if I would have come."

Athletic director Debbie Yow was happy to play host to Driesell and his family in her box.

"There are two coaches in Maryland history that have a special place in the hearts of the fans. That's Gary Williams and Lefty Driesell," Yow said. "I was touched by the standing ovation and the reception he received. I hope he enjoyed it."

Driesell, 71, wound up retiring on New Year's Day from Georgia State, his last coaching stop in a five-decade carousel that produced 786 victories and made him the fourth-winningest men's coach in Division I history.

His return last night included Driesell being given a commemorative ball and plaque from Len Elmore, one of several former players in attendance. There was a short video narrated by longtime play-by-play announcer Johnny Holliday.

Elmore said he believed the ceremony for Driesell was overdue.

"He was the foundation upon on which all this stuff was built," Elmore said.

Driesell downplayed the fuss, as well as his accomplishments at Maryland.

Asked if he felt partially responsible for the current status of the program, most notably the state-of-the-art arena, Driesell said, "Not me. All the players who played for us here got the winning tradition going.

"Obviously, they've built on it. Gary's done a great job of building on it. I think we were the ones who sort of got the people interested in Maryland basketball. Not me, my players. I never scored a basket or gotten a rebound or made an assist."

But he did win 348 games at Maryland in 17 seasons, the last victory coming in the first round of the 1986 NCAA tournament. Three months later, Len Bias was dead and Driesell resigned under pressure that fall. He spent two years on campus as an assistant athletic director.

"I really didn't do anything," Driesell said.

The last time Driesell saw Maryland play in person, the Terps were beating his Georgia State team in the second round of the 2001 NCAA tournament in Boise, Idaho. "I helped them get to the Final Four for the first time," he said jokingly.

Driesell had been back on the campus a few times, mostly scouting high school players in an annual tournament held at Cole Field House. He was back last summer when he was inducted in the school's Hall of Fame.

"I had 17 great years here," Driesell said. "To see all the progress they've made, Gary's done a great job. He's my kind of coach. He yells and he hollers just like I used to.

"When I first came here in '69, Cole Field House was a state-of-the-art field house in America. Now this probably is. I'm delighted to be here. It's very humbling. I appreciate the reception given me."

Driesell recently closed on a retirement house in Virginia Beach, near his boyhood roots in Norfolk, Va.

"I'm going to miss coaching, but I'm going to enjoy sitting up in the stands and not having to write notes and things. I can watch television and not have to worry about anything, just kind of take it easy."

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