BALTIMORE – Lefty Driesell turned heads from the minute he arrived at the University of Maryland in 1969. He made it very clear that he would turn around the school’s sputtering men’s basketball team – uttering the famous line that he would make it the UCLA of the East – and quickly made the Terps a powerhouse on the national stage.
They came up with numerous significant victories during Driesell’s 17 years with the school. There were many memorable games in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) tournament and even in the NCAA Tournament.
However, Driesell left in the wake of the Len Bias tragedy in 1986, just two years after winning his first and only ACC Tournament title. He coached overall for 41 years, but the 86-year old finally achieved one of his big goals last Saturday – getting a spot in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Driesell and 12 others are set to be inducted on Sept. 7.
Driesell remains the only coach in Division I history to have won at least 100 games with four different colleges. He coached at Davidson before Maryland and James Madison plus Georgia State after the Terps.
Overall, Driesell finished with 786 victories, which ranked fifth among Division I coaches when he retired in 2003. He was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame 11 years ago but never earned this honor.
None of his teams ever made the Final Four but Driesell, especially during his time at Maryland, was known for his recruiting. That was what turned the Terps around. They went from being an also-ran to a powerful team in just a few years.
“Lefty was instrumental is moving Maryland into the modern era of basketball,” said former coach Gary Williams. “He…marketed the program very well. Lefty created Midnight Madness and was a great innovator.
The news was announced at the NCAA Tournament Final Four last weekend in San Antonio.
Driesell found success at those other schools, but his fast recruiting in the early ‘70s made Maryland a powerhouse. He brought in players like Tom McMillen, Len Elmore, John Lucas, Buck Williams, Albert King and later, Len Bias
The Terps won the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) in 1972 when some considered that tournament just as or almost as important as the NCAA. Maryland suffered a 103-100 loss to N.C. State in the ACC Tournament final in 1974 and were one of the top five teams in the nation but did not get a big to the NCAA's because the size of the field was limited at that time.
Maryland suffered many disappointments in that ACC Tournament over the years but finally won one in 1984. But just more than two years later, Driesell was gone in the wake of the Bias tragedy.
“We’re all thrilled and excited the team has come,” current Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “His impact on the game of college basketball is one of the reasons why the game has grown and become so popular today. I’ve always admired his competitive spirit, and I’m so happy for Lefty to finally be recognized as the Hall of Famer he is.”