Fifty-eight years after Cole Field House first opened and 11 years after the Terrapins moved to more modern digs, the old building once again hosted basketball Friday night in College Park, welcoming the latest iterations of the University of Maryland basketball teams on a choreographed night thick with history and nostalgia.
The occasion was Maryland Madness, and the theme was decidedly retro, with a tan oak floor trucked in for the festivities. An alumni game drew standing ovations. The Twitter hashtag #Back2Cole trended in the Washington region. And near midcourt sat legendary coaches Lefty Driesell, hands crossed over his walking cane, thinking about the players he led for 17 seasons; Chris Weller, eight ACC titles to her name; and Gary Williams, his 2002 national championship ring gleaming from his left hand.
“Unreal,” current Maryland guard Varun Ram said, arms crossed and eyes wide, an hour before the event began. “Everything here echoes.”
Since men’s coach Mark Turgeon replaced Williams in 2011, he took aim at returning to Cole, and hoped Friday night could convince the administration to host an annual regular season game there. The logistical challenges may ultimately supersede Turgeon’s dreams, but Friday’s time warp will suffice for now. After all, without the building and its history, Turgeon may never have left Texas A&M.
“How great is this?” he told the fans. “Back in Cole. I know everybody walked in here tonight and you have a story. Something in your life when you were here, a game, class, whatever it was. I know you have a great memory. We brought this back tonight for you.”
In a way, Maryland’s impending switch to the Big Ten next summer made Friday night even more fitting. Juan Dixon, the program’s all-time leading scorer, and Byron Mouton represented the men’s title team. Driesell called for students to return to Cole Field House to watch road games against Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State, none of which will visit College Park in the Terps’ swan song. Williams backed Turgeon’s wish for an annual game over winter break, and suggested the school turn the building into a Maryland basketball museum to honor a past that includes 744 combined wins, seven upsets of No. 1-ranked teams and the first athletic competition (table tennis) between the United States and China.
“It’s just one of those places,” Williams said.
After former players and coaches recounted their memories on the video board, the men’s team finally took the court, wearing jerseys with the names and numbers of Terps greats. The crowd of 11,500 roared.
Turgeon’s third season brings new expectations to the program, carried by a stable of young playmakers hoping to deliver their first NCAA tournament bid since 2010.
The brightest star of them all, junior guard Dez Wells, kneeled at the tip-off circle during his introduction and planted a kiss on the hardwood, before rising and throwing an alley-oop to himself for a 360-degree dunk. Back home in Raleigh, N.C., Wells had learned about the late Maryland great Len Bias from his mother, Pamela, herself a former college basketball player. When Wells transferred from Xavier before last season, he began thinking about his predecessors. He wanted to carve his own reputation, the type honored at events like these.
“I’ve walked past it a lot of times, but this is my first time being here,” Wells said. “That [kiss] was just, I guess, my token of appreciation for all the guys who came before me, who made this place a historic place to be at. I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to be in here again. I just wanted to have a lasting impression on this place.”
Minutes later, Driesell stood from his seat and walked to midcourt, flashing his trademark “V for victory” peace sign as the Maryland band blared, “Hail to the Chief.” Williams joined him, and the building exploded. Then out walked Turgeon, embracing both of them in a foggy haze lit by camera flashes, three eras of coaches together united at the event that, for one night only, brought everyone back.