Maryland to honor Lefty Driesell with banner at Xfinity Center

During his 17 seasons at Maryland, Lefty Driesell used to hang banners at Cole Field House only for his teams that finished ranked in the top 10.

Those six banners are long gone, but another will go up at Xfinity Center with Driesell's name on it.


Driesell, who will turn 85 on Christmas Day, will be honored before the game against Ohio State on Feb. 11.

"We are thrilled and excited to honor Lefty Driesell," Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said in a statement. "Lefty is more just a coaching legend who won 786 career games. He is a pioneer, an innovator and continues to be committed to growing the game of college basketball. It will be a special moment for all Maryland fans to celebrate with Lefty."


In a telephone interview Wednesday, Driesell said the honor should not be about him.

"I'm honored that they want to do it, and I'm looking forward to it," Driesell said. "It's not really for me. It's for my teams. We had six teams ranked in the final top 10, three [other] teams ranked in the top 20. We won the NIT [in 1971-72] when the NIT was a big-time tournament. I had 17 great years there.

"We won a lot of big games and I had a lot of great players. I enjoyed coaching them. It's more about my teams and great players.  This is for them."

Driesell said he has asked the Maryland athletic department to invite all his former players to the game in February.

"I think all of them should be invited, not just the great players, and I said I will write the letter to invite them," Driesell said.

Len Elmore, who played for the Terps from 1970 through 1974 and is one of seven of Driesell's former players to have his jersey honored, called the recognition of his former coach "a long time in coming."

"Lefty is as deserving or more deserving than anyone who has a banner in the rafters, no doubt it," Elmore said. "… Maryland basketball, for all the accolades we've received begins with him."

Greg Manning, who played for Maryland from 1977 through 1981, said Wednesday that "when you look at the history of Maryland basketball, and you look at all the banners that are up there, he deserves to be up there. He's a big part of what Maryland is today."

Manning, who served as athletic director at Georgia State when Driesell finished his career there in 2003, recalled being "intimidated" meeting Driesell for the first time as a high school senior outside Harrisburg, Pa., in the winter of 1977. Driesell came to watch Manning play at Steelton-Highspire High.

"In typical Lefty fashion, he waited out in the hallway until the first timeout, and of course the gym was full and they were hanging off the rafters, and in walks coach in a full-length sealskin coat," Manning said. "He walked the length of the gym to get to the seat. He fills the room and lets you know that he's there."

From promising to turn the Terps into "the UCLA of the East" on the day he was introduced in College Park in 1969 to starting Midnight Madness to his much-publicized exit in 1986 in the aftermath of All-American Len Bias' cocaine overdose, Driesell was both a popular and polarizing figure at Maryland.

Taking out a full-page ad in The Washington Post to recruit local players – "Maryland Wants You" – Driesell started recruiting some of the top talent in the country. His biggest early prize was Tom McMillen, who as a high school player was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.


With the addition of McMillen – whose brother Jay, a former teammate of Gary Williams' at Maryland, came up with the "UCLA of the East" line – as well as Elmore and guards Mo Howard and John Lucas, the Terps went to a pair of Elite Eights in a three-year span. Driesell finished his career at Maryland with Bias.

Driesell's career in College Park ended with a 348-159 record, including an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title in 1984.

While Driesell was elected to the school's athletic Hall of Fame in 2002, and was honored in the form of a bas-relief statue with his likeness in 2013, many of his friends and former players said he should have been celebrated even more for his contribution to the men's basketball program.

Driesell didn't help his cause, coming out publicly against having the court named after Williams at what was then called Comcast Center. Williams was a Maryland graduate who during a 22-year career in College Park led the team to its only Final Four appearances in 2001 and 2002, and to its only national championship in 2002.

"At that time, the Board of Regents hadn't voted on it. Tom McMillen was on the board," Driesell said Wednesday. "It was a controversy whether his name should be on the court. … When somebody called me, I told them that I don't think it's fair to my players because my players helped build Maryland basketball."

The two coaches, who combined for 809 victories at the school, have barely spoken since, including when they both appeared with current coach Mark Turgeon for Maryland Madness at Cole Field House in 2013. Williams was selected for the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2014; Driesell is still waiting.

A court was named in Driesell's honor at Georgia State a few months after he retired.

Manning, who played a role in that decision, said having a banner with Driesell's name on it in College Park is something all of his former players "should feel good that he's being honored."

"He likes those things," Manning said. "It's part of his personality. It'll be good not only for him but everybody at the Xfinity Center when they do it."

Recommended on Baltimore Sun