Monday, January 30, 2012

Never a dull moment

It was an eventful week for Maryland basketball with Duke coming to College Park on Wednesday on the night when the court at Comcast Center would be named after former coach Gary Williams. The game itself turned out to be a bit of a letdown as Duke used its superior talent and Coach K out maneuvered Mark Turgeon to post another in a string of wins against the Terps. As I have written before the obsession with Duke in the majority of the fanbase is a negative. Elevating the game above other ACC contests that are probably a more accurate barometer for the program makes little sense. Since winning the ACC tournament by defeating Duke in overtime Maryland has finished on average over three games below Duke in the standings. The fleeting moment back in 2001-2 when Maryland was battling Duke for ACC supremacy is long over. There has only been one game in the last 8 years when a Duke versus Maryland game was crucial in deciding who would win the ACC, yet I bet that Duke will be the only ACC sell out Maryland has all season. It's pathetic.

Oh, well, back to the game. Mark Turgeon's strategy to limit Duke's 3-point shooting was executed well (3/16 from the 3-point line) but it didn't matter as Duke's trio of post players chewed Maryland up on the interior. Turgeon will figure out that trying to grind out a half court game rarely worked against Duke. Opponents have been trying to do that to Coach K and the Blue Devils since, oh, forever. The disparity of coaching experience was on display in this game.

The game became a footnote when former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell was quoted as being opposed to naming the court after Williams. The fact that reporters chose to run the story the day of the ceremony is disappointing but I'm not surprised Driesell opened his big mouth to insert his big foot into it. Who can forget when Maryland defeated his Georgia State team in the 2001 NCAA tournament he was quoted as saying, "Maryland don't [sic] mean anything to me...I'm not emotionally attached to Maryland." Then he went on to say he hoped Georgetown would beat Maryland in the Sweet 16 game. So we know Driesell is a jerk and we also know that he was lying when he said he wasn't emotionally attached to Maryland. It is obvious from his petty and bitter comments that he is still wounded by his ousting as the head coach at Maryland. It is reflective of a man that even 30 years later doesn't get it. Driesell may have done impressive things at Maryland but he was also the architect of his own destruction.

The suggestion that Driesell made that he felt it was an insult to his players (an not him) is pathetic and ridiculous. Tom McMillen regularly attends games and Len Elmore is a vocal supporter of Gary Williams. That was just a sad attempt by Driesell to make himself appear less vain and narcissistic in his attempts to criticize the honor given the Williams. His follow up comments on the radio make him appear even less sympathetic. His obsession with people seeing the court and thinking Williams' "put Maryland on the map" is bizarre and pompous. The idea that Driesell created Maryland basketball is also an insult to Bud Millikan who nearly won as many ACC games as Driesell did in three fewer seasons. While Driesell did gain Maryland a fair amount of notoriety he also presided over a number of scandals and tragedies that had a definite role in the NCAA handing down a death penalty to Maryland during the Bob Wade era. The sanctions that the NCAA handed down for actions under Wade were the bookend to the Herman Veal controversy and the later death of Len Bias. To maintain the misdeeds under Driesell were not considered by the NCAA when handing down sanctions for what today would be minor NCAA violations is to be obtuse.

All of Driesell's arrogant pronunciations when he took the job at Maryland turned out to be braggadocio. It was Williams who rebuilt the program reach a height it never reached was under Driesell. Gary Williams time as head coach at Maryland was a glorious healing of the tumultuous scandals and tragedies that occurred before he arrived. Driesell's tenure ended with such negativity that many in the administration viewed the basketball program as a stain on the university. That is part of his legacy and clearly something he takes no responsibility for creating. His lack of tact was always a trait that got him into trouble but to try to ruin a day of celebration for Williams, who has always been welcoming of Dreisell, when Driesell has the court at Georgia State named after him is the height of hypocrisy and selfishness.

Gary Williams risked his career to save Maryland basketball from the abyss. He has donated his money and time to fundraising for Maryland, funded the athletic department with his successful basketball program and has been the most visible face of the entire school. I would hardly say that Williams' has no ego but his love of Maryland has never been in question. With Lefty Driesell it was always first and foremost about Lefty. His actions in this case may have ensured that there will never be a formal reconciliation between the school and Dreisell. In this case it is Driesell who has continued the ill will as there are some who won't forgive or forget his lack of graciousness.

In some ways it is typical of Maryland sports. Something is obviously the right thing to do yet they can't help but turn it into a botched and tainted result. Do you think anyone would seriously suggested the women's basketball coach should have the court named after her at Duke, UNC or Kentucky? Maryland's biggest foe is not the Blue Devils or Tarheels but infighting and back biting. This was just another example.

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