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Rick Snider: Maryland doing right by Lefty Driesell

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Amen Corner has come to Comcast Center.

Former Maryland basketball coach Lefty Driesell returned to College Park on Tuesday for the unveiling of a bas relief of him on the sideline. It hangs next to the large center court piece of the floor of Cole Field House, where Driesell spent 17 years turning the Terrapins into national contenders. Certainly, older fans will linger as they walk past it, remembering victories capped by the singing of an "Amen" hymn.

Fifty of Driesell's former players were among the large gathering. Tom McMillen, Len Elmore and John Lucas formed a great combination in the 1970s, as did Buck Williams and Albert King in the 1980s.

But Driesell largely spoke about players no longer living. Those are the ones he misses most; the bond of coach and player transcends anything outside military life.

Of course, he mostly discussed perhaps his greatest player ever, the one who caused his ouster from Maryland -- Len Bias.

Bias' 1987 death from a cocaine overdose after he was chosen second in the NBA Draft rocked the program for a decade. Bias' name wasn't even spoken freely around the team until recent years. The death is considered a stain on the program by some. Driesell chose to defend Bias again, just as he did in the hours, days, weeks and months after the player's death.

"People say Len Bias has hurt Maryland in some way. I disagree with that wholeheartedly," Driesell said. "Lenny Bias made a terrible mistake. It was bad judgment. It was a bad mistake, but he didn't hurt anybody else.

"Marilyn Monroe died of drugs, and nobody held it against her. Michael Jackson died of drugs, and nobody held it against him. Elvis Presley died of drugs, and nobody held it against him."

Driesell then defended Bias' academic record and finally asked for the crowd's help to elect Bias to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. That he spent nearly half of his 20 minutes talking about one player showed the depth of the connection that still exists 26 years after Driesell walked out of Cole with his long arms draped across his family in surely the second-most painful moment of his life.

"I miss Leonard like he was my son," Driesell said.

Gary Williams later led Maryland to a national championship, but Driesell was the foundation of success. And the healing has finally come. After snubbing Driesell when it didn't invite him to Cole's 2002 closing, the university inducted him into its Athletic Hall of Fame and honored him at halftime of a game last season.

The historic whitewashing is over. That means remembering -- and honoring -- Driesell.

"You can't forget our past," Elmore said. "We can't forget our past traditions. We can't forget the Terps who essentially put us on the map. We can't forget the folks involved."

Added McMillen: "Winston Churchill said, 'The love of tradition has never weakened a nation. And I might add, a love of tradition has never weakened a university.'?"

Amen to that.

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or email rsnider@washingtonexaminer.com.

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