The announcement Tuesday that Maryland Madness will be held at Cole Field House for the first time since the building was closed to basketball in 2002 was welcomed by two former coaches who spent a lot of time there and whose teams won many big games there.
Both Lefty Driesell and Gary Williams said they hope to be in College Park on Oct. 18, when third-year men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon and longtime women's basketball coach Brenda Frese hold a ceremonial practice there for their respective teams.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s great, I think it will be fun,” Driesell said by telephone from his beach house in Delaware. “I hope we can get all the [former] players back there.”
Said Williams: “I would certainly enjoy being there. I haven’t talked to [athletic director] Kevin Anderson yet about it, but I would look forward to it.”
The idea to hold Maryland Madness at Cole Field House this year grew out of a campaign to celebrate the school’s final season in the Atlantic Coast Conference before its athletic teams move to the Big Ten next season.
The 14,500-seat arena, which opened in 1955 and was among the largest college basketball venues in the country, holds special memories for both Driesell and Williams.
Driesell watched his first game there a few years before he became Maryland’s head coach in 1969. He went there with the father of Fred Hetzel, who played for Driesell at Davidson, to watch Hetzel’s younger brother, Will, play for the Terps.
“There were only about 1,000 or 2,000 people there, and Mr. Hetzel made the comment, ‘Hey Lefty, you can fill the place up,” Driesell said.
Driesell returned with Davidson for the NCAA East regionals in 1969. After his team lost to North Carolina in the regional final, Driesell never left town. He replaced Frank Fellows. Two years later, Driesell started Midnight Madness and held it every year until he was forced to resign in 1986.
“The reason that I did it is that we ran a mile the first day of practice,” Driesell recalled. “It’s not like today when they have fall practice and summer practice. We couldn’t touch a ball until Oct. 15. For me to make sure they were in shape, at least cardio-vascular conditioning, I said we were going to run a mile right before practice at 3 o'clock on the 15th. I would ruin my first day of practice because they were all tired.”
Driesell decided to have the team run a mile beginning at 12:01 a.m. The first year he did it around the track at Byrd Stadium, but he moved the festivities inside the following year at the suggestion of one of his former players. The tradition caught on around the country and grew into a nationally televised event for a number of the nation’s top programs.
As a Maryland player, Williams attended the most historic game ever played at Cole Field House -- the 1966 NCAA championship game between all-black Texas-El Paso and all-white Kentucky -- by sneaking in a side door. Williams, who returned to College Park as the team’s coach in 1989, coached the final game there, a 20-point win over Virginia in 2002 a month before the Terps won their first national championship.
“Cole had outlived its time as a building, not necessarily as a basketball court,” Williams said Tuesday. “You couldn’t do a lot of things in Cole. It wasn’t air-confidtioned. We used to tell our campers in the summer, ‘Our air-conditioning broke yesterday.’ There was a lot of asbestos, the bathrooms needed updating. So much money would have had to have been spent to bring it up to speed. Comcast Center was something that had to be done.”
Williams said part of a new generation of Maryland fans have never been inside Cole Field House.
“It will be great for young people who never got a chance to see a game in Cole Field House to see Midnight Madness there. They can get a kind of feel for that.”