Down at Maryland's Cole Field House, the boys get there early when Lefty's Terrapins are playing basketball. It never used to be this way, of course. Maryland did not have Tom McMillen. Or Mo Elmore. Or Helicopter Brown. Or any of the handpicked 6-8, 6-10 and 6-11 dudes from New York City. Springfield Gardens or Mansfield, Pa., that were playing for the Terp varsity last week when Maryland invited St. John's, Western Kentucky and Harvard down to play in the first Maryland Invitational Tournament.
But these lanky, bull whip-limbed sophomores and juniors are not the main reason why you can't buy any of the 14,000 seats at Cole Field House for the rest of the season. The main reason is coach Charles G. Driesell, known to the people as Lefty, who does not come out on the floor when the team comes out for pre-game warmups, but stages his own highly personalized entrance several minutes later, with his assistants trailing deferentially a few steps behind.
That is when the Maryland pep band strikes up "Hail to the Chief," and as the 14,000 madmen in the stands cheer wildly. Driesell parades solemnly to midcourt, bows his head, and raises both arms, his fingers extended in a Churchillian V-for-Victory sign. Victories have been none too plentiful around College Park in past years, and Driesell, the "messiah of Maryland basketball," is being depended upon to bring the Terrapins to a position of national power in college basketball. Ultimately, he is expected to wrest the national title away from UCLA.
The Maryland athletic department, and several hundred alumni, have invested quite a bit of money in Driesell--maybe more than their goal is worth--and their faith in him is complete, bordering almost on worship.
Several weeks after he arrived from Davidson in the late winter of 1969, the M Club, composed of former Maryland letterwinners, and the Terrapin Club, to which anyone who is willing to donate $40 a year can belong, spent $594 for a full-page ad in the sports section of The Washington Post, for the sole purpose of attracting the top four high-school prospects in the Baltimore-Washington area.
Pictures of the four boys--Jim O'Brien, Dave Freitag, James Brown and Floyd Lewis--appeared under a bold face headline that read:
We want YOU at the University of Maryland.
Beneath, the reasons were listed:
because: young men of your caliber maintain the prestige and national renown identified with the Atlantic Coast Conference
because: you are outstanding examples of leaders who can successfully meet the matchless academic and athletic challenges presented by the University because: upon graduation you will stand out in the business community as a "preferred graduate," the man who was able to take advantage of Maryland's high-ranking educational standards because: you can bring exciting basketball back to the Baltimore-Washington area, play one of the toughest schedules in the nation under coaches with winning records, have the added bonus of playing before your "home folks" in the 14,000 seat Cole Field House, and help bring the NCAA Championship to its rightful place - the Nation's Capital.
It was recruiting according to new rules--Driesell rules--and it was a clear indication that Maryland had made the commitment to go all the way.
"The ad was Raveling's idea," Driesell said. George Raveling had been hired from Villanova, where he had been responsible for the Wildcats acquisition of All-American Howard Porter. "We're going to do anything we can to get these boys here. Anything that's legal."
The ad backfired fairly impressively, and it was the first indication that Driesell's program needed something more than money and propaganda. O'Brien signed a letter of intent, binding him to Maryland, the day after the ad appeared in the Post, but Freitag decide-to attend Boston College, and Lewis and Brown chose Harvard. The bluntness of the Maryland appeal clearly had something to do with their decision.
"Sometimes I remember how he wanted me for his show, and it makes me smile." Brown told a reporter for The Washington Star last week. "You never know what some guys will resort to when they are recruiting."
Driesell had problems during the next winter. His varsity won only half of their 26 games. But he managed to recruit 6-11 Tom McMillen, the most sought-after high school prospect in the nation at the time. Len Elmore, a 6-9, 230-pound guard, and ballhandler Jap Trimble, and they formed the core of his unbeaten freshman squad last year. And even last winter, when his varsity was still only putting together a 14-12 record and a sixth-place finish in the ACC, he had sophomores like guard Howie White, one of the best field generals in the East. Bob Bodell, a superb ballhawk and defensive man, and O'Brien, who was his best man from outside.
And if Driesell had to resort to unpopular tactics to win big ballgames--he had his squad freeze the ball against playoff champion South Carolina last year to bring off a startling 31-30 upset at College Park--it was only to buy time for the 1971-72 season, when the Terrapins were going to fulfill the promise Driesell made shortly after he was hired--that Maryland would be the UCLA of the East.
Meanwhile, the Washington-Baltimore fans and press bought Lefty's scheme in its entirety. The field house was repainted. The Terrapin Club offered a gold Terrapin pin with an inlaid diamond, four season tickets to basketball and football games, and various parking privileges and ticket options to anyone who would make an annual donation of $1000 to the Maryland Educational Foundation for the purpose of athletic scholarships. Local automobile dealers donated 19 "courtesy cars" for use in recruiting and travel by Maryland coaches. And Driesell was installed as a prominent businessman in College Park. There is the Lefty Driesell Old Line Steak House. The C.G. 'Lefty' Driesell Insurance Agency. The University of Maryland Basketball School during the summer. And the Lefty Driesell Show, Saturdays on WMAL-TV. Clearly, the man intends to stay around for awhile.
But it is necessary to see this unique thing, this Roman circus-like atmosphere that Driesell has crafted in less than three years, in order to understand the magnitude of what can happen when a university decides that a national basketball championship is a campus necessity, and lets nothing stand in its way in the getting of it.