Driesell defends progress of program at James Madison

HARRISONBURG, VA. — HARRISONBURG, Va. (AP) -- When Lefty Driesell became James Madison's basketball coach, expectations were understandably high.

Driesell had taken two downtrodden programs -- Davidson and Maryland -- and turned them into consistent NCAA tournament teams that frequently occupied the Top 25.


But as he begins his fourth season at James Madison, facing Georgia Tech tonight, that same magic has yet to materialize at jTC the picturesque school in the Shenandoah Valley.

Driesell knows some people had hoped for more by this point, but he makes no apologies.


"My definition of success is knowing you did the best you could do. And there ain't nobody outworked me the last three years," he said. "If they had, then I'd be disappointed. We've won more regular-season games than anybody in the league the last three years, and we took over a program that was down."

Driesell came to James Madison in April 1988, two years after the cocaine-induced death of All-American forward Len Bias set off a storm of negative publicity at Maryland.

At James Madison, Driesell has a 55-35 record and a pair of first-round losses in the National Invitation Tournament. James Madison was the Colonial Athletic Association's regular-season champion the last two seasons, but both times failed to win the conference tournament and the automatic NCAA tournament berth that accompanies it.

"Everybody wants to get to the NCAAs, but I'm not worried about that," Driesell said. "I'd like to get back in the Top 10. I don't care about the NCAAs. I've had 11 teams ranked in the Top 10 teams in the country in the final poll. Not too many coaches can say that. Sixty-four coaches make it to the NCAAs every year. That ain't no big deal to me."

What has become a big deal to Driesell is trying to elevate the image of the CAA to more than that of a kid brother to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big East.

The CAA traditionally has no at-large entries to the NCAA tournament, an indication that league members' schedules are viewed as less than robust.

Driesell is aggressively trying to change that by loading his non-conference schedule with UNLV, Oklahoma, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Brigham Young and others.

"I think if the teams in our league will play better teams," he said, "then we'll attract better players to come into our league and then, hopefully, one day we'll catch up with the ACC and the Big East."


For now, Driesell is using transfers from other Division I schools and junior colleges in an attempt to upgrade his program.

Two Division I transfers and a pair of junior college players are likely to figure prominently this season as Driesell tries to replace heavy graduation losses. Last year's team averaged 76 points, but the eight players lost were responsible for 67 of those.