Maryland Madness' return to Cole Field House gives current Terps 'goose bumps'

A nearly 60-year-old basketball arena called Cole Field House was transformed into a hot, crowded, ear-deafening time capsule Friday night.

It could have been 1969, the year Lefty Driesell arrived from Davidson filled with bluster and bravado and determined to make Maryland into "the UCLA of the East."

It could have been 1989, the year Gary Williams returned to his alma mater from Ohio State, vowing to rebuild a scandal-ridden, down-on-its-luck program.

It could have been 2002, when the Terps won their first national championship a few weeks after closing the building with an unbeaten home season.

On a night when the current men's and women's teams were introduced to a raucous crowd of more than 12,000, the two legendary coaches and more than two dozen of their former players were the stars of an event that celebrated the past while getting ready for what fans expect to be a breakthrough season under third-year coach Mark Turgeon.

"We brought this back tonight for you," Turgeon told the crowd after joining Driesell and Williams in a touching midcourt embrace.

From the standing ovation given former All-American Juan Dixon to the intrasquad scrimmages, to choreographed dances by the men's and women's teams, to the Twitter hashtag #Back2Cole, the team's current players were impressed.

"It's so loud," junior guard Dez Wells, the team's leading returning scorer, said as he and his teammates watched some of their predecessors warm up. "I'd love to play a game in here."

Junior guard Varun Ram, who grew up in Columbia and transferred to Maryland after playing at Division III Trinity College in Connecticut, looked at the darkened arena and smiled.

"It gives me goose bumps," he said.

Driesell repeated his wish that the event he started in 1971 and came to be known nationally as Midnight Madness should start at 12:01 a.m., not at 6:30 p.m.

The coach, who led Maryland until a few months after Len Bias' death in 1986, also said he has suggested to Turgeon that the students be allowed to watch road games this season against Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State from the comfort of Cole Field House or Comcast Center.

"This was my life for 17 years," the now 81-year-old Driesell said at a news conference before the event. "I woke up every morning thinking about Maryland winning basketball games and getting my players to graduate and go to class."

Driesell said that his famous line at his introductory press conference was not his own, but came from a former Terp, Jay McMillen, as the new Maryland coach was trying to recruit McMillen's brother Tom, then considered the top high school player in the country, away from Dean Smith and North Carolina.

"We were eating breakfast and Jay said, 'Listen Lefty, Maryland could be the UCLA of the East and I said, 'Yeah, if we had Tom, we might be,'" Driesell said Friday. "More or less, it was a recruiting pitch to get Tom McMillen."

Former women's coach Chris Weller, who spent 27 years in charge of the women's program, recalled the day she was getting her team ready to play national power Old Dominion and its 6 foot 8 center Anne Donovan. She needed someone to imitate the intimidating Donovan and the 6-5 Driesell, who played at Duke, volunteered.

"I told my center to get around him, but she couldn't get around him," Weller said.

When Weller retired after the 2001-2002 season with 499 career victories, she said she received a telephone call from legendary Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt, who couldn't understand why her longtime friend was quitting one win shy of a milestone.

Weller said she thought it was time, considering that the Terps were moving into the Comcast Center. Summitt didn't understand.

"She said, 'Well you come on over and coach my team and get your 500th,' " Weller recalled.

Weller declined, but kidded that she thought about taking Summit up on her idea when Summit was about to reach her 1,000th victory.

Williams said he came to Maryland mostly for the opportunity to play at Cole. As a junior, Williams scored 17 points against South Carolina by making all eight of his field goal attempts, a record that stood for more than three decades.

"We lost by one, we got robbed on a call," said Williams, who felt that way a few times during his coaching career at Maryland, too. "It was one of those games where you want to walk up to the coach and say, 'See, I could score a lot more if [they] let me shoot.'"

Asked whether that was his career high, Williams smirked.

"By far," he said.

Williams wasn't the only high school student impressed by Cole Field House. When Ryan Tommins was growing up in Ellicott City, he came with his family to a number of games, including the last one played against Virginia

"I saw the students lining up, and that was the night I decided I wanted to come here," said Tommins, now a Maryland senior.

Tommins and some of his friends got to Cole Field House at 6 a.m. Friday to line up. There were only a handful of other students there, including Tyler North of Cambridge.

North, a junior, and three fellow students slept in their cars in the parking lot outside the arena. Though he started watching the Terps back in the days of Dixon and the championship team, he had only seen games at Comcast.

"This and last year's Duke game are the highlights of my three years here," North said.

It was a night when Williams and Driesell put their seemingly petty, two-year feud aside. It started when Driesell said that the court at Comcast Center should not be named for Williams, a statement that Williams resented at the time. But they put their differences aside for one night to celebrate their history.

Turgeon gave his own tribute to his two most famous predecessors as he walked onto the floor, giving both Driesell's "V" for victory sign and the trademark fist pump with which Williams entered both Cole Field House and later Comcast Center during his 22 seasons.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad