(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – The University of Maryland’s legendary head coach Charles “Lefty” Driesell rose to his rightful place among the game’s greats as he was formally enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Friday.
Driesell’s legacy as one of the most innovative and influential coaches in the history of college basketball was immortalized at Springfield Symphony Hall in Springfield, Massachusetts, the birthplace of basketball.
Driesell started the festivities Friday morning with over 100 family, friends, supporters and former players at a brunch at the Hall of Fame museum. Driesell’s players from Maryland, Davidson and JMU reminisced about their playing days under Driesell, while Athletic Director Damon Evans and Maryland basketball great Tom McMillen spoke to the room about Driesell’s lasting impact on the game of basketball and the lives he touched.
“You don’t get many opportunities like this in life where you get to be around a living legend and be a part of something so well deserved and long overdue,” said Evans. “We’re so fortunate at the University of Maryland to have someone like Coach Driesell as part of our history and tradition and to let us know what it means to be successful at the highest level. What is so evident is the number of lives that he has touched and the lives he has changed throughout the years. I just want to say congratulations coach, we are forever proud of you.”
“People will never remember that it took [Coach Driesell] 15 years to get into the Hall of Fame,” said McMillen. “What they will remember is the reasons why he got it in to the Hall of Fame. The thing that I’m most proud of with Lefty is he was willing to stand up for what he believed in when it was not easy. He brought Mike Maloy to Davidson as its first black player in 1966 and brought on George Ravling as the first black coach in the ACC. Those qualities really defined him. He believed in social justice and believed that everybody deserves a chance. In your 41 years as a coach you’ve demonstrated leadership, humanity and so many great qualities – but most of all it was what you believed in with your players.”
The left-hander finally graced the stage at Springfield Symphony Hall Friday evening, taking an enthusiastic crowd filled with basketball royalty through his journey in the game. Coach Driesell’s notorious charm and quick wit was on full display, as he repeatedly prompted thunderous laughter from the audience throughout his speech. Driesell referred to his wife as the “greatest recruit I’ve ever had” and thanked all of his players, coaches and supporters that helped him along the way.
“I’m so happy to be here, this is probably the happiest day of my life… I’m really happy to accept this honor from the Hall of Fame, it’s something I’ve prayed about for a long time…basketball has been great to me, and for me to get into this Hall of Fame is unbelievable.”
Driesell joined Ray Allen, Maurice Cheeks, Grant Hill, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Tina Thompson, Dino Radja, Charlie Scott, Ora Mae Washington, Rod Thorn, Rick Welts and Katie Smith in the Naismith Class of 2018 enshrinement.
Lefty Driesell Bio
Heralded for his infectious coaching and recruiting ability, the legendary Driesell transcended the basketball community during his 41 seasons as a head coach, including 17 seasons at the University of Maryland from 1969 to 1986.
Driesell amassed 786 wins, which ranked fifth among Division I head coaches when he retired in 2003. In 2007 Driesell was named to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. He is the only coach in Division I history to win at least 100 games at four different schools.
Driesell rapidly built Maryland into a perennial contender in Atlantic Coast Conference, recruiting such players as Tom McMillen, Len Elmore, John Lucas, Albert King, Buck Williams and Len Bias.
Under the guidance of Driesell, Maryland won the National Invitational Tournament in 1972 – its second-ever ACC Tournament Championship in 1984. He finished his career at Maryland with a 348-159 record.
He is also credited with generating the idea for the nation’s first “Midnight Madness,” a tradition that has largely been inherited by almost every college basketball team in the country and still continues to this day. As the legend goes, Driesell held a one-mile run at the track in front of 1,000 fans around then-Byrd Stadium at 12:03 a.m. on October 15, 1971, the first possible day to begin practice.
In 1960 Driesell joined the collegiate ranks when he accepted the head coaching position at Davidson College. Driesell posted a 9-14 record in his first season at Davidson. He would have only one more losing season in the 40 years that followed. In nine seasons at Davidson, Driesell led the Wildcats to three Southern Conference Championships and posted an impressive 176-65 record.
Following a two-year hiatus from coaching after his time at Maryland, Driesell returned to the sidelines in 1988, when he was named the head coach at James Madison University. He led the Dukes to five regular season championships in the Colonial Athletics Association and a berth in the 1994 NCAA Tournament.
Six years later he became one of just three coaches to take four different programs to the NCAA Tournament when he coached Georgia State to the Big Dance following the 2000-01 season. The Panthers, who finished 29-5, upset Wisconsin in the first round of the tournament before falling to Maryland.
Driesell won 103 games in six seasons at Georgia State making him the only coach in Division I history to win at least 100 games at four different schools.
A bronze bas-relief of Driesell was unveiled at XFINITY Center on April 16, 2013. He is a member of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and the University of Maryland Athletics Hall of Fame. A banner honoring Driesell’s accomplishments was raised at the XFINITY Center on February 11, 2017.