WASHINGTON — Charles Grice Driesell changed men’s college basketball in the D.C. metro area when he left Davidson for Maryland in 1969.
Since reaching the ACC Semifinals in 1965, the program had gone from seven to five to four to two conference wins. More than just the Atlantic Coast Conference’s “Siberia,” winter nights in College Park were an afterthought in the break between Redskins and Senators seasons in the Washington area. That all changed when “Lefty” declared he would turn the University of Maryland into “the UCLA of the east.”
While he didn’t win the NCAA Tournament — let alone reach the Final Four — in his tenure, Driessell turned the Terrapins from pretenders into contenders. All-Americans ranging from Len Elmore to the late Len Bias. Eight berths in the NCAA Tournament (six of those trips before the field expanded to 64) and five trips to the Sweet Sixteen. An NIT Championship when that tournament still fielded five schools in the top 20. And that elusive ACC Tournament finally captured in Greensboro in March of 1984.
Maryland became a basketball school when Driesell trotted out to the sounds of “Hail to the Chief” and has mattered ever since. Saturday, the school honors the coach who left under a cloud more than 30 years ago with a banner that will hang in the rafters. That it has taken over 30 years to honor the man who created “Midnight Madness” is unfortunate, just as the end of his tenure on the sidelines in 1986 was the unfortunate finish to 17 years of dreams and possibilities (plus a little aggravation directed toward tobacco road).
Gary Williams may have delivered that Final Four and National Championship, and Mark Turgeon may be getting the program in position to potentially return to the Final Four, but Lefty was the one who first dreamed big and recruited even bigger. To him, there was no ceiling to what the University of Maryland could accomplish. Thus, it’s only fitting that a banner bearing Lefty Driesell’s name is within spitting distance of the Xfinity Center ceiling. Hail to the dreamer.