The Left Bench
HOUSTON — Charles “Lefty” Driesell, known to University of Maryland fans as the man who vowed to make Maryland the “UCLA of the East” and the coach who first created Midnight Madness, was snubbed from joining the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame after his third time being named a finalist.
After playing center at Duke in the 1950s, Driesell was the head coach at four different schools: Davidson College, Maryland, James Madison University and Georgia State. He won at least 100 games at each of the four schools and is the only coach in history to do so.
“I think he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame,” said former Georgetown University head coach John Thompson Jr., who coached against Driesell and the Terps in the ‘70s and ‘80s. “People were shocked when I first said it because they thought I hated Lefty. It’s competitive hate. I competitive hated Rollie [Massimino, former Villanova coach], I competitive hated Lefty, but all of those guys are my friends. I don’t understand why he didn’t get in. That’s very difficult for me to understand.”
Though the Hall of Fame did not offer a reason as to why Driesell was not inducted, many speculate that his involvement as Len Bias’s coach had something to do with it. Bias, one of Driesell’s star players, died of a cocaine-induced heart attack right after being drafted second overall by the Boston Celtics in 1986. Driesell was largely held responsible and resigned from his coaching position a few months later.
“I think the thing with Len Bias created a strain, but that could have happened to any of us,” Thompson said.
Jay Bilas, who played for Duke while Driesell coached at Maryland, was the Hall of Fame’s featured speaker at the announcement event. He, like Thompson, thought the committee had gotten it wrong.
“In my book, he’s a Hall of Famer,” Bilas said. “The extraordinary things he’s done in the game and the longevity. He’s not only a great character, a man of character… I love Lefty. For me, any time that a guy like Lefty doesn’t make it, it always kind of makes you sad.”
Driesell is one of ten finalists who did not make the cut to be inducted. It’s a difficult process, though many fans— and even former rivals— think the Hall of Fame made a mistake not inducting the 84-year-old, three-time finalist.
“I don’t know how to process it,” Bilas said. “I know it’s the votes of a lot of different people and there’s a very high bar and it’s very difficult to get in. It’s just… Lefty’s always given me the feeling that he’s a Hall of Famer.”