Maryland honors Lefty Driesell with sculpture at Comcast Center

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy,Terps

Lefty Driesell never quite lived up to his promise to make Maryland the "UCLA of the East." But with outsized ambition and foot-stomping audacity, he propelled the Terrapins to relevance, bringing big-time college basketball to the area and forever changing the Washington sports landscape.

Tuesday night at Comcast Center, Maryland gave Driesell his long-awaited due, dedicating a bronze bas-relief sculpture in his honor. In a ceremony that included former stars Len Elmore and Tom McMillen, Driesell, 81, spoke for 20 entertaining minutes and urged the crowd to join him at his favorite College Park hangout, Ledo Restaurant.

"This thing is not for me," Driesell said of the sculpture. "It's for all my players and coaches at the University of Maryland."

Driesell coached 17 seasons at Maryland (1969-86), going 348-159. He talked of coming to College Park for the 1969 NCAA regionals when he coached Davidson, losing to North Carolina on a basket by Charlie Scott and then getting a full-court press that same night from Maryland athletic director Jim Kehoe, who was anxious to hire him. Kehoe wooed Driesell, telling him that Vince Lombardi was the new coach of the Washington Redskins and Ted Williams the new manager of the Washington Senators. Kehoe was interested in making a splash as well.

"That sounded pretty good. But [Kehoe] said, 'I tell you what, you gotta make up your mind tonight,' " Driesell recalled. " 'If you don't sign tonight, I'm gonna sign Morgan Wootten.'?"

Wootten was one of those in the crowd Tuesday night, along with a host of former Terps including John Lucas, Buck Williams, Mo Howard, Albert King, Earnest Graham, Steve Sheppard, Howard White, Derrick Lewis, Rich Porac, Tom Roy and Jo Jo Hunter. Elmore spoke for them all when he said, "This is long overdue."

Elmore, a Harvard-trained lawyer and TV analyst, talked eloquently of how Driesell wooed him from New York City and lifted a dormant program with the force of his personality.

"His recruiting was marked by optimism, marked by showmanship, marked by a vision," Elmore said. "To that moment that he and coach [George] Raveling kind of latched onto me and I latched onto them, I can say Maryland was the best choice that I ever made."

Former University of Virginia coach Terry Holland, Driesell's first recruit at Davidson and one of his first assistant coaches at Maryland, talked of his determination to play for ACC powerhouse Wake Forest. Undaunted, Driesell pursued Holland anyway, despite Davidson's failure to win a game against a Division I foe that season.

"He said, 'If you come to Davidson, we're gonna have a top-10 team just like the one at Wake Forest.' I'm thinking, you gotta be kidding," Holland said. "My mother's sitting there nodding her head and I knew it was over. Sure enough, by the time I was a senior, we were ranked as high as third in the country."

Current Maryland coach Mark Turgeon spoke in awe of the shadow Driesell casts. Turgeon said he will take recruits to view the bas-relief and explain to them the program's history.

"It's gonna be a big part of what we do in recruiting. This night is so long overdue and I'm so glad it's happening," Turgeon said. "I didn't play for you. I never coached with you. But Lefty, I love you. Because of what you did, I wake up happy and hungry to come to work every day. I just want to follow your footsteps. I hope someday I'm lucky enough to have a night like this, recruit great players who become great men."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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