“Congratulations,” it read in part. “You have now made Maryland the UCLA of the East.”
The note came from Lefty Driesell.
It was Driesell who made the term “UCLA of the East” famous when he came to Maryland in 1969 and boldly predicted he would build a program somehow comparable to college basketball’s most incomparable program.
Driesell came up 10 national championships short of John Wooden but he did put Maryland basketball on the national map, taking the Terrapins to eight NCAA tournaments in 17 seasons, twice reaching the Elite Eight. He left in 1986 in the aftermath of the Len Bias tragedy.
It was Williams, after the disastrous three-year tenure of Bob Wade, who picked up the pieces of a shattered program and made Maryland matter again. Ultimately, he did what Driesell could not do, taking Maryland to back-to-back Final Fours and the national title that brought the kind of joy to the Maryland campus that for years seemed impossible in the wake of Bias’s death.
Which is why Wednesday’s court-naming ceremony at Comcast Center was, without any question, the right thing to do. Driesell did great things at Maryland, but he did not climb the heights Williams climbed. It is also why Driesell’s public carping about that decision is so sad.
Driesell, who said before Wednesday’s game that the court shouldn’t have anyone’s name on it, should be an honored and revered figure at Maryland. Instead, he looks like a bitter old man.
To be fair, the blame for this shouldn’t really fall on Driesell. It should fall on a Maryland administration that, to use an old Driesell quote, “could screw up a one-car funeral.”
It appears that almost nothing in College Park is ever thought out. Talks between Jeff Hathaway and Maryland for the athletic director’s job broke down at the last moment in September 2010, and Kevin Anderson was hired about 15 minutes later. When Anderson needed a new football coach three months after that, Mike Leach came and went as a candidate. Just like that, Randy Edsall (Randy Edsall?) was hired. Williams then retired in May, and the day after he made the announcement, President Wallace Loh — who has been on campus for about an hour — said that the court would be named for Williams.
Right decision, poor time to announce it.
Naming a court is a forever decision. Court-naming has come into vogue in the last 20 years since big-time college athletics sold its soul to corporate America and began putting names like Comcast Center on athletic facilities. If the Dean E. Smith Center opened today it would almost certainly have a corporate name on it, which would really upset Smith, who wanted the building named for his players back in 1986. That would have been an even more unwieldy name than Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium.