At his outrageous, provocative best, Lefty Driesell once promised to transform Maryland into the UCLA of the East.
Even if he didn't deliver the goods, he had an eventful 17-year run at Maryland and helped the Atlantic Coast Conference blossom far beyond its Tobacco Road roots.
Now 64, Driesell takes his eighth James Madison team into the Colonial Athletic Association tournament tomorrow in Richmond, Va., for what could be his last hurrah.
Whether Driesell will return next season to finish his contract is uncertain. Speculation suggests the school might not want him back. In the wake of his first losing season in 33 years, Driesell raised the possibility of retirement nine days ago, but has been quashing the idea since then.
"I was just talking," he said this week. "It wasn't out of frustration. We've won five in a row."
The Dukes take a 10-19 mark against second seed Old Dominion tomorrow. But one of those wins came against regular season champ VCU, fueling hope the Dukes might win the CAA tourney and get its NCAA bid. "We're playing as good as anybody in the league right now," Driesell said.
The Dukes are young -- they start two freshmen -- and when they struggled, Driesell juggled. He used 13 lineups in the first 23 games. "It was probably a mistake," he says now. "I'd never lost that many games in my life."
Driesell, who always could recruit, hasn't lost his touch. He landed four recruits this year, including 6-foot-10 Rob Strickland of Pleasantville, N.J., and swingman Chatney Howard of Annapolis and Allegany Community College. Among the schools that wanted Strickland were Connecticut, Wake Forest, Rutgers and St. John's. Driesell won out, he said, because Strickland "wanted to play for somebody who put a lot of big men in the NBA, and I put a lot of big men in the NBA."
Even though Driesell never turned Maryland into the UCLA of the East -- his empire crumbled with the death of Len Bias in 1986 -- last month he passed UCLA coach John Wooden in career wins with his 665th.
Now at 667 wins, Driesell faces odd bookends to a distinguished career if this turns out to be his final season. His only other losing season was his first, in 1960-61, at Davidson.
When the NCAA dealt Maryland's Duane Simpkins a three-game suspension for an improper loan after he ran up more than $8,000 in parking fines, the basketball program reacted in an iron-fisted manner. Only athletic director Debbie Yow answered questions about the incident, and her answers were vague at best.
Coach Gary Williams refused questions on the incident, Simpkins issued a public apology, and that was it. The result was that the shocking details leaked out in a daily barrage of embarrassing stories, causing Simpkins weeklong humiliation that seemed unnecessary.
Contrast that with how Villanova handled a similar crisis when its star, Kerry Kittles, was suspended for three games for unauthorized use of a university telephone credit card number, running up charges of more than $3,100.
The Wildcats called a news conference in which Kittles, coach Steve Lappas and athletic director Gene DeFilippo answered questions for nearly 45 minutes. The only question they didn't answer -- how Kittles got the card number -- was answered a few days later by both the NCAA and DeFilippo. (Kittles got it from a former sports information director who had given it to him in 1994 to return a call to a reporter.) Damage? Minimal.
Maryland, take note.
A Devil of a time
In the excitement that followed Duke's big win over UCLA in Durham, N.C., last Sunday, Nate James, one of the nation's top recruits from St. John's-Prospect Hall in Frederick, passed out as he talked to coach Mike Krzyzewski. But it wasn't the excitement that got to him.
"Nate wasn't feeling well," said his high school coach, Stu Vetter. "He was standing up a long time and he hadn't eaten. It didn't have anything to do with the excitement of the game."
James' final four schools are Duke, UCLA, Syracuse and Maryland. Don't bet against Duke.
North Carolina State is 0-4 this season in overtime games and 1-7 the past two years. . . . Fifteen of the Top 25 teams lost a total of 16 games last week. . . . Alabama never had a triple double in its history before this season, and now 6-10 Roy Rogers has done it twice. . . . UConn is 83-12 over the past three seasons, best record in the country.