- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2001

One of the ironies about tonight's epic matchup in Anaheim is that the man who made it possible won't be there. I refer to the most visible nonplaying basketball baldy this side of Dick Vitale, the eminent Charles Grice Driesell.
In the short view, Lefty made it possible for Maryland to muster up for this Sweet 16 shootout by coaching a Georgia State team that played no interior defense and shot abysmally against the Terrapins last week in beautiful Boise, Idaho. But there's a longer, and historically more significant, perspective.
When Driesell moved from Davidson to College Park in 1969, college hoops in these parts were nowhere. Always a man ready to seize the moment, Lefty capitalized on the opportunity, even if he didn't really promise to make Maryland the "UCLA of the East."
Three years later, the Terps were a national force, and other colleges in the Washington area started hustling to catch up. That's when Georgetown startlingly lured John Thompson away from St. Anthony's High School in the District and began its own ascent from the ashes of a program that had gone 3-23 the previous season.
So whether you go batty for the Terps or the Hoyas tonight, lift a glass to the Lefthander. If not for him, we might be reduced to eyeballing the cheerleading dance team championships on ESPN for our TV kicks or even a rerun of the exhibition game between the Baltimore Angeloses and the St. Louis McGwires.
Thanks, Lefty. We owe you one.
No sports fan who was around will forget the wondrous spring of '69 hereabouts, when Driesell, Vince Lombardi and Ted Williams arrived in town to command terrible teams. Lombardi raised the Redskins to 7-5-2 respectability but died a year later of colon cancer. Williams somehow turned the Senators into an 86-76 outfit before enduring three mediocre seasons and returning to his tarpon and tuna. But Driesell lasted for 17 long years at Cole Field House and might be there still if Len Bias hadn't celebrated his No. 1 selection by the Boston Celtics in the 1986 NBA Draft with a fatal cocaine hit.
With the possible exception of Georgetown's unfathomable Thompson, now a pretend journalist for TBS and WTEM-AM, Lefty is the most fascinating fellow I've met in 47 odd years at this newspaper racket. It's possible to love him and hate him almost simultaneously, and you better believe the same emotions will come flying back at you.
The first time I ever interviewed the rascal was while he was getting a haircut (yes, it was a very short interview). Some years later, in both a snit and a tizzy, he offered to throw me out of Maryland's locker room because of something I had written. Considering that he had me by perhaps 10 inches and 75 pounds, I didn't wait to ascertain if he was serious.
Driesell can be the world's biggest charmer, as evidenced by his deserved reputation as a great recruiter (and this is a timely spot to ridicule the idea that he isn't a good coach, too; nobody wins more than 700 games without knowing how to diagram a mean play). Yet he also can be a churlish chap who holds grudges and sets off confrontations with ill-advised comments, usually in the aftermath of battle.
During one long conversation in which we divested ourselves of our dull axes, I remarked, "Your problem is that you shoot off your mouth without thinking."
This time Lefty didn't throw me out of the locker room, probably because we weren't in one. Instead he shook his head ruefully and said, "Well, you know, you're right."
There is the Lefty who said after Bias' death, "Goodbye, Lenny, I know I'll see you in heaven someday." And there is the Lefty who said after the Women's Center at Maryland protested when one of his players was accused of rape, "I don't care about the women's center I'm the men's center."
But delightfully or dastardly, Lefty Driesell rolls along as his 70th birthday approaches, building or resurrecting programs wherever he goes. There has been speculation that his Georgia State team might play at Maryland next winter in the Terps' final season at Cole Field House, and that would be wonderfully appropriate. No matter how we may feel about him, he remains a presence and a big part of the reason why college basketball is second only to the almighty Redskins as this area's sport of choice.
So let's remember him as the Terps and Hoyas tip off tonight. Could so titanic a tussle have happened at all if the Lefthander hadn't focused everybody's attention on his sport? Well, you know …


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