- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2006

It’s been 20 years; 20 years of ACC nail-biters; 20 years of NBA drafts; 20 years of waiting. Len Bias, the phenomenal player from the University of Maryland, died 20 years ago on June 19, 1986. Len died at his own hands, from cocaine intoxication. His untimely death 20 years ago left a mark on the Terrapins, college and professional baskeball, Coaches Lefty Driesell, Bob Wade and Gary Williams and the ACC — as sports reporters and commentators will remind you in the coming weeks and months.

What did the University of Maryland know and when did they know it?

Coach Driesell was one of the best things that ever happened to Terp basketball, compiling a 348-159 record). And it’s safe to say that had Len not died two days after being drafted to the Boston Celtics, had he and those other boys not been sucking in cocaine on campus that night, Coach Driesell would not have walked away from College Park. Coach’s supporters in the sports world say he was forced out because of Len’s death. They say Maryland needed a scapegoat and that Coach Driesell was the obvious choice for a fallguy.

Maryland didn’t need a scapegoat; it needed to clean its own house — and not just Cole Field House. Len’s death forced Maryland to face some cold facts: Len wasn’t the only athlete at College Park abusing drugs; there were academic problems with Coach Driesell’s basketball program; and there was the very stark reality that Coach Driesell himself might have hindered the criminal investigation of Len’s death.

Len’s death has followed Lefty Driesell for 20 years. It followed him to Virginia, where he coached at James Madison (1988-97), and it followed him to Georgia State University, where, in January, he announced his retirement. The coach’s legacy is the fifth-most wins in Division I history, and he is the only coach to win more than 100 games at four schools (before joining Maryland, he coached at Davidson from 1960-69, where he had a 176-65 record).

Coach Driesell, who now is 74 years old, said he simply woke up with a bad cold on New Year’s Day 2003 and decided, “I’m just going to retire” — in the middle of the season.

Even in retirement — and even amid the winning ways of Coach Gary Williams — Coach Driesell cannot escape the ghosts of Maryland. Coach Driesell returned to College Park earlier last month to honor, as it was, Coach Williams, whose Feb. 7 victory over Virginia meant that Coach Driesell no longer was Maryland’s winningest coach.

Said Coach Driesell to the Balitmore Sun’s David Steele: “I can’t believe it’s been 20 years. Twenty years since I left, 20 years since Lenny died … Maryland should be proud of Lenny Bias; he was a great kid, a down-to-earth kid, a born-again Christian who made a big impact. But he also made a big mistake. Hopefully, kids have learned from it, but I don’t know.”

I don’t know either. I don’t know if he knew Len and other athletes were abusing drugs. I don’t know if he cared that Len and other athletes were abusing drugs. I don’t know what role he played in the criminal investigation.

I do know that I have not rooted for the Terps since June 1986. Not since Len died that horrible death on campus. I could not come to terms with what happened at College Park. Somebody of consequence — somebodies other than Len, Brian Tribble and others in the room that particular night — had to know what was going on. Somebody always knows who’s doing what — and with whom.

Len, Brian and those other guys are responsible for their own actions. Brian eventually went to prison (although not in the Bias case). Len paid the ultimate price.

Nothing happened to the powers-that-be at Maryland. Should it have?

I told myself, not long after Len had gone on to glory, that I would wait to see if Maryland would reconcile itself with Len’s death. It hasn’t.

Sportswriters and commentators won’t push the envelope. Most of them have short memories, anyway; and the sports statisticians, the ones who make the pundits sound knowledgeable, did their heavy lifting 20 years ago.

Maryland has honored Coach Driesell and Coach Gary Williams on more than one occasion. What happened to Len Bias — the good and the illegal — must not be forgotten. The university should be, as Coach Driesell said, proud of Len. This, the 20th anniversary of his unfortunate death, must be noted. Maryland needs to pay homage to Len Bias.

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