Peter Schmuck: Terps legend Lefty Driesell richly deserves Naismith honor

 

 

Peter Schmuck — The Baltimore Sun – February 6th, 2016

 

 

We’ll find out Friday whether former Maryland basketball coach Lefty Driesell will be a finalist for induction in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this year, but former Terps star Len Elmore doesn’t want to leave anything to chance.

 

Sitting alongside Driesell on the stage during a pregame booster forum Saturday afternoon, Elmore called on Terps fans to flood social media with tweets and Facebook posts advocating for the 84-year-old coach to get the recognition he richly deserves. Then he made his case.

 

“I think Coach obviously not only was a winner; his record speaks for itself,” Elmore said. “You don’t have to be a national championship coach to still be in the Hall of Fame. There are a lot of coaches in the Hall of Fame that never won an NBA championship, and some that didn’t win national championships.”

 

Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson was a bit more blunt.

 

“They should have put him in a long time ago,” Anderson said. “And if they don’t put him in soon, it’ll be a travesty.”

 

It’s not like Driesell hasn’t won his share of honors. He has been inducted into quite a few halls of fame, including the University of Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame in 2002 and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007, but the Naismith Hall of Fame is the highest honor in both the collegiate and professional levels of the sport.

 

Making a solid argument against him is a tall order, even if he never got the opportunity to hold up a national championship trophy. During college coaching stints at Davidson, Maryland, James Madison and Georgia State, Driesell won 16 conference titles and reached the NCAA tournament 13 times. Of course, he spent the largest part of his career in College Park, where he led the Terps to eight NCAA tournaments and an NIT title.

 

He won more Division I games (786) during his 41 seasons than all but 19 other coaches, and — as he will gladly tell you — more than some of the biggest names in the history of college coaching.

 

“I’ve got more wins than some people already in there,” he said, “so it would mean a great deal to me. It would be the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”

 

If it should have happened sooner than this, there are some who feel that it hasn’t because of the shocking drug-related death of Terps star Len Bias in 1986, which led to Driesell’s resignation as head coach and cast a shadow over a successful and innovative career that he would continue to build upon at JMU and Georgia State.

 

Driesell reflected on Bias on Saturday as he reminisced about the terrific players he got to coach during his 17 seasons at Maryland.

 

“Len Bias didn’t hurt Maryland,” Driesell said. “He died in a tragic accident. … He was a great Christian young man and he died in a terrible, terrible accident. I’m proud of Len Bias.”

 

Elmore, who along with former stars such as Tom McMillen and John Lucas helped Driesell turn Maryland into a basketball power, said there was a lot more to Driesell’s approach to coaching than just the great fundamentals he instilled in his players on the basketball court.

 

“You take a look at many of the guys who played for him, what we turned out to be, and then finally, as a contributor to the sport,” said Elmore, who would go on to play 10 professional seasons and graduate from Harvard Law School, and who currently serves as a basketball analyst for ESPN and CBS. “Look at the things that he’s done for basketball to make it a better game. Midnight Madness. Seats on floor in the ACC. Coach Driesell started that. That was the advent of the fans being more involved in the game.

 

“I think winning [at least] 100 games and taking four different programs to the tournament is another great accomplishment. So overall, when you stack it up, I think in comparison to other coaches who are in the Hall of Fame, he stacks up favorably.”

 

Driesell looks back on those 41 years at the Division I level (and also his career as a high school coach) and says now that all he ever wanted to do was coach basketball, even as a young kid growing up in Norfolk, Va.

 

“I started learning how to be a coach when I was 8 years old, because I was a manager for the football team, basketball team and baseball team,” Driesell said. “So I hung around a lot of coaches. In ninth grade, I started playing basketball, and as a junior and senior we won the state championship.”

 

He went to college and got a real job, but returned to Granby High School as junior varsity coach and later would turn nearby Newport News High into a varsity powerhouse before moving to the college level and twice taking tiny Davidson to the Elite Eight.

 

“When I moved to Newport News and we won 57 straight games,” he said, “I knew I could coach.”

 

The Hall of Fame Class of 2016 will be announced at the Final Four on April 4.

 

 

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