Shortly after a red banner was raised in his honor at Xfinity Center on Saturday afternoon, former Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell stood at halfcourt with friends, family and former players before basking in an ovation from a sold-out crowd. He eventually raised his right hand and flashed his signature V-for-victory sign, the same gesture that partly symbolized so much of his colorful tenure in College Park.
Shortly after, when the 85-year-old Driesell returned to his courtside seat before Maryland’s 86-77 win over Ohio State, each of the Terrapins’ starters ran over to give the revered former coach a fist-bump. They played under the banner for the first time, hoping not to spoil an honor that came three decades after Driesell coached his last game at Maryland.
“Today is really special for me because when they told me they wanted to hang a banner for me, I told them I never got a rebound, I never scored a point, I never turned the ball over,” Driesell said. “I said that today is for my players.”
Those players came from near and far to celebrate with Driesell, an esteemed and polarizing figure who helped lift Maryland to national prominence after he took over the program in 1969. He famously vowed to turn the program into the “UCLA of the East” that year during his introductory news conference, which began a 17-year run that included a 348-159 record and an ACC championship in 1984.
Driesell had plenty of watershed moments during his tenure, including his creation of “Midnight Madness,” an idea introduced in 1970 that has continued to serve as a traditional starting point of each college basketball season. His time with the Terps also included plenty of turmoil, including his controversial ouster from the school after the 1986 death of star Len Bias because of a cocaine overdose.
A number of the players Driesell is celebrated for recruiting during those years — including Tom McMillen, Len Elmore, Buck Williams and Albert King — were all in attendance Saturday to celebrate. Also in the building to pay respects to Driesell was former Maryland standout Dave Dickerson, who is now an assistant coach with the Terps’ opponent Saturday.
“About 30 of my players are here, and they’re all nice young men, they have good jobs, they dress right,” Driesell said. “They’re all nice young men. All of them played on a team that ended up ranked in the top 10. My biggest regret is that we never went to the Final Four. I always blamed myself, and I said we didn’t make the tournament because I worked them too hard.”
Driesell won 786 games during his 41-year coaching career, which included stints at Davidson, Maryland, James Madison and Georgia State. He remains the only coach in Division I history to win 100 games or more at four different schools.
Saturday’s honor had been long-awaited by many in College Park, as has Driesell’s potential enshrinement into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. But he was more concerned about the memories Saturday than what could potentially lie ahead. He told stories on a stage with Williams and King, drawing rounds of laughter from prominent boosters. He and his wife, Joyce, gave each other a peck on the lips when the Kiss Cam found them in the second half. And even after Maryland had pulled out a hard-fought win, he was at the forefront.
“We got to honor Lefty. We had a great 24 hours with him. He was at practice yesterday and spoke with the team . . . He gave the guys a lot of great advice,” Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said. “More importantly, we’re undefeated when he’s in the building, so I felt good going into the game. It was great to see very well deserved.”