Catching Up With ... Ex-Terps basketball star Will Hetzel

Will Hetzel during his time playing basketball for Maryland.
Will Hetzel during his time playing basketball for Maryland.(Washington Post archive)

At 67, Will Hetzel writes poetry, speaks his liberal mind and revels in the psychedelic music of the late Richie Havens and The Jefferson Airplane. That he did the same in 1968, as a Maryland basketball star, caused quite a stir in College Park.

Hetzel, a springy 6-foot-6 forward from Washington, D.C., carried the Terps, averaging 23.3 points per game — still the second-best single-season mark in school history. He also wore long hair, a beard and sandals around campus. Hetzel had 24 rebounds, then a Maryland record, in a victory over West Virginia and twice made second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference. He also embraced a counterculture lifestyle, used drugs and railed against mainstream America.


"I was a hippie and all of my friends were hippies," said Hetzel, a philosophy major with a sweet jump shot. "I wrote a column in the college newspaper called 'Pot Shots' where I said football was too violent, fraternities were stupid and basketball wasn't life or death but just part of the college experience."

Sacrilege, cried Terps fans, who turned on Hetzel.


"My junior year, during pre-game introductions, Cole Field House would roar with boos," he said. "But I had opinions and, when asked questions, I gave them. I didn't know how to be subtle. I said haircuts were unnatural and drugs should be legalized. In retrospect, I should have been more discreet, but I was fascinated with the sensationalism it caused. I mean, people picked up on it like I was the second coming of Timothy Leary."

Nowadays Hetzel lives quietly on a farm in Purcellville, Va. He sells his own organic produce, plays chess and teaches English at Northern Virginia Community College, where students call him Dr. Hetzel, unaware of the fuss that surrounded him in his playing days.

In 1969, Maryland hired Lefty Driesell as coach. Driesell sized up his best player and declared, "I ain't going to have no hippie playing for me," triggering a spat that both men vividly recall.

"Lefty and I had a running battle in the press, week after week," Hetzel said. "I stupidly told reporters that I didn't believe in diving for loose balls — that it wasn't worth the risk of injury. I still believe that, but it drove Lefty crazy, so he added a drill to practice where he'd roll the ball onto the floor and two of us would dive for it. I did it and, sure enough, I hurt my back."

Driesell, 83, said he had Hetzel's best interests at heart.

"Will was a very good player, good skills, but he was a free spirit," Driesell said. "He wasn't very disciplined. I never had anything against him — I just tried to break him in."

Once, upset with Hetzel's defense, Driesell proclaimed him "one of the two laziest players I ever coached" and said "he has never been totally committed to anything." Then he sat Hetzel at the start of the team's first six games.

"That was irksome. I couldn't believe it," Hetzel said. "Here I was, coming off the best junior year in school history and Lefty had me on the bench. On the other hand, I was acting like [a jerk], saying stuff in the papers that wasn't conducive to team unity. Lefty once told a reporter that I was 'honest to a fault,' but he said it tongue-in-cheek.

"Looking back, it was embarrassing — both of us acted like babies."

Ironically, Hetzel had enrolled at Maryland "to avoid Lefty." His older brother, Fred, had played for Driesell at Davidson before turning pro. The younger Hetzel refused to follow suit ("Fred was more well-behaved than me.") However their father, Fred Sr., had once played for the Terps (1928-30) and, when the Maryland job opened up, he suggested that Driesell apply.

"Dad talked him into coming there, never dreaming of the controversies we'd have," Hetzel said.

One game changed that. On Jan. 28, 1970, Hetzel hit a 30-foot jump shot at the buzzer for a 52-50 win over Duke, Driesell's alma mater. it was the Terps' first victory over the Blue Devils in six years and the first signature win in Driesell's 17-year career at Maryland.


"Oh yeah, I remember that shot," said Dreisell, who rushed onto the court to embrace No. 50.

"All was forgiven and forgotten after that," Hetzel said.

The Terps finished 13-13, the only non-winning season in Driesell's tenure.

"Without Will, we wouldn't have won as many games as we did," he said.

Hetzel finished his career with 1,370 points, 14 shy of Gene Shue's then-school record. He now ranks fifth in career scoring average (18.0) and eighth in rebounding (9.1). Nearly half a century later, he has yet to be enshrined in the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame or receive a banner bearing his name at Xfinity Center.

"He deserves both," Driesell said.

Hetzel doesn't beat his drum but said, "If they wanted to put my jersey in the rafters, I'd be proud of it,"

He is already part of one hall of fame. For his doctoral degree in English, which he received from Maryland in 2002, Hetzel wrote a dissertation entitled, "Romanticism In Sixties Rock: Literary Tradition in Anglo-American Folk and Rock Lyriucs (1963-1977)."

His paper now sits in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


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