AP Sports

Maryland reflects on Driesell’s impact on elevating Terrapins to national elite

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Before Gary Williams led Maryland to the 2002 NCAA championship, Lefty Driesell made the Terrapins relevant.

Driesell, who died Saturday at 92, was remembered during Maryland’s game against Illinois as the coach who elevated the program from one with a single NCAA Tournament appearance to a postseason regular capable of competing with Atlantic Coast Conference powers Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State.

“Not being afraid to put Maryland’s basketball program out there, that takes some guts to do that,” Williams said. “Obviously, Lefty had that ability. He’s a great recruiter. There’s a lot of those players who are here today, just tremendous players. He was just great for the university and the state of Maryland. If you said ‘Lefty,’ you didn’t have to say anything else. Everybody knew who you were talking about.”

Maryland wore throwback uniforms Saturday that echoed Driesell’s 1970s heyday at the school, and held a moment of silence before the game while encouraging fans to show the “V-sign” — a Driesell signature during his time at the school.

Driesell went 348-159 in 17 seasons from 1969-86, reaching eight NCAA Tournaments before he was forced out after Terp star Len Bias’ cocaine-induced death in June 1986. He collected 786 victories in a career that also included stops at Davidson (1960-69), James Madison (1988-96) and Georgia State (1997-03).

But it was Maryland — where Driesell led the Terps to the 1972 NIT title, NCAA regional final appearances in 1973 and 1975, and an ACC Tournament title in 1984 — where the 2018 inductee to the Basketball Hall of Fame was most associated with.

“Coach Driesell is Maryland,” said Jeff Baxter, who played at Maryland from 1982-86. “When you think of Maryland Terrapins, you think of coach Driesell, and of course coach Williams winning the national championship that came about, but it never would have been written if it weren’t for coach Driesell. He is that guy. That flash of flamboyance that he used, he knew what he was doing.”

Baxter and several teammates from the 1984 team were recognized at halftime, a ceremony scheduled long before Saturday. Guard Keith Gatlin recalled some of his best memories from his time at Maryland happening while visiting Driesell and his family at their home.

“On Saturdays, me and Chuck (Driesell) would play one-on-one,” Gatlin said. “I’d got to church with him and his family on Sunday. Those are things I don’t think coach got a lot of credit for. He was way before his time. These kids now, you have to connect before you can correct, and he really connected with us.”

That wasn’t the only audience he charmed. Driesell claimed when he took over at Maryland that he would turn it into the “UCLA of the East,” and was also the originator of the Midnight Madness tradition that quickly spread throughout college basketball.

“Lefty was somewhat of a character,” Williams said. “When they write the ultimate book on basketball, he’s going to have a couple chapters.”


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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball


Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. AP

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