We all know that Lefty Driesell has waited way too long to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, but that will be rectified Friday night in Springfield, Mass.
He’ll finally receive an honor he coveted so long that he eventually joined in the campaign that sought to get it for him.
Since I wasn’t around these parts during his time leading the Terps to eight NCAA tournaments during his 18 seasons at College Park, Driesell’s situation really didn’t resonate with me until I met him in 2016 at a pregame booster forum at Xfinity Center.
I wrote a column that night about his achievements, which definitely qualified him for the Naismith Hall, but what struck me about him was his blunt honesty about how important that honor would be to him.
He was waiting to see whether he was going to be a finalist that year and the announcement was less than a week away. He was 84 years old. He had every right to wonder how many more chances there might be.
If it were anyone else, it might have been off-putting. The normal protocol in that situation would be to talk humbly about what that honor would mean and feign wonder whether he deserved it.
Lefty made no bones about wanting to fill out his Hall of Fame dance card. He already is in the University of Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame and made the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007, but the Naismith Hall is considered the highest honor for both the college and pro basketball.
“I've got more wins than some people already in there," he said that night, "so it would mean a great deal to me. It would be the greatest thing that ever happened to me."
There’s just something about his “aw shucks” manner that make it hard to read any guile into it, but I knew he was on a charm offensive when he sat down with me.
Didn’t matter. He had checked off all the boxes except for winning an NCAA title during a career in which he won more than 100 games at four schools and took each of them to the NCAA tournament.
The other thing that struck me at the time was the way he characterized the Len Bias tragedy that many consider a major reason Driesell has had to wait so long for this moment to arrive.
He could have explained or complained about the circumstances that followed Bias’ death from a cocaine overdose two days after he was selected second overall by the Boston Celtics in the 1986 NBA draft. Instead, Lefty paid tribute to Bias, who perhaps was the greatest player he ever coached.
"Len Bias didn't hurt Maryland," Driesell said. "He died in a tragic accident. … He was a great Christian young man and he died in a terrible, terrible accident. I'm proud of Len Bias."
Driesell earned his place in the Hall of all basketball halls, but he owes a debt of gratitude to the former players and longtime Terps fans who have spent years clamoring for him to finally receive this honor.
It will certainly be worth the wait.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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