There is a special empathy here with Lefty Driesell this season. My players also have trouble grasping team play. They also dribble too much and drift into one-on-one funks under pressure now and then. But my players are in the third and fourth grades.
In truth, Driesell probably realized sooner than anyone he would flunk basketball chemistry at Maryland this season, that he had too many heroes and not enough thinkers to regularly beat fine teams with fine coaches. But if he leaves Maryland it will be on his terms, not because of flack from alumni snipers.
There are whispers around the country that two exquisite jobs will open after the season, at Tenessee and South Carolina. It is whispered that Tennessee would like to make a spirited pitch to Driesell, whose financial roots here are firm but hardly cemented.
An admirer calls Driesell "snake bit" throughout his nine seasons at Maryland - and it is difficult to argue otherwise about the last four years. One former player, Owen Brown, and one active player, Chris Patton died. The player who might well have assured the national championship Driesell so covets turned pro before turning a book at Maryland. Several players have been on academic probation within last year.
The times have especially been cruel to Driesell. If the athletic mood of the '60s had been in fashion in the '70s, Maryland's center this year would be Moses Malone and its point guard Brad Davis.
Patton would have been a senior.
So what, anyone who has witnessed most of Maryland's recent disasters might yell in frustration. So get players just as good. The fact is only a few Malones come along in a generation, players who can take a school to such a lofty level and attract others to keep it there.
And Driesell has recruited splendid players. The entire vested hoop world wanted Jo Jo Hunter, Billy Bryant and Larry Gibson. Mike Davis was said to be the best junior-college center in the country two years ago.
But they often are as compatible as Kiss and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Realizing he had too many soloists, Driesell re-established his former recruiting standards - and now has a player, Albert King, who posses too much at times.
There are too many of the same ingredients for a consistently pleasing mix. Poor Bryant seems best suited for the position King plays. Hunter and Greg Manning are guards more comfortable with shooting than playmaking. The most consistent large shooter, Lawrence Boston, rarely gets more than 10 shots a game.
To win as often as Driesell wants in the sort of company he keeps, Maryland needs a dominant big man and a point guard. Neither is on hand. And the coach increases the frustration level by changing lineups all the time.
Kicking Davis off the team Monday certainly inspired the Terrapins against Virginia. They came out acting as though they had never seen a pick in their lives and as though the ball was suddenly white-hot when they touched it.
The first half was a clinic by a disciplined team, Virginia, that has climbed as high as the Terrapins have sunk the last few years. Down 15 points at the half, Maryland was as embarrassing as anyone could imagine. The Cal-Irvine of the East, someone said.
But the Maryland coach was not quitting - and it developed that neither were the Maryland players. What they did, simply, was work. They put on a vice of a full-court press and Boston, King and Hunter scored enough for them to have a chance to tie the game until Hunter made an error with 21 seconds left.
"We played well enough to win," Driesell said.
Actually, Virginia played poorly enough to loose. But the major point was emphasized by the Cavalier's Mike Owens, who said of Maryland: "With the (ACC) record they have (1-5 going into the game), it probably wouldn't have been unusual for them to give up. But they didn't."
Perhaps Maryland was embarassed to the point of finally working, of fighting through picks and for loose balls and for something more than an 18-foot jumper with a hand in the face.
But the Terrapins have too many obvious weaknesses for any drastic turnaround - and Driesell is anything but a tactical innovator, a coach able to mold what he has to best advantage, or to be calm and understanding with young players on whom he has placed massive pressure.
Or maybe a combination of Dave Gavitt, Digger Phelps and Joe Hall could not inspire these Terrapins to more than an 11-8 record.
Because Driesell is so open, so publicly vulnerable, it often is assumed he has better players than perhaps he has. Driesell brags on his recruits, yet only John Lucas of those who actually played for him at Maryland is making a significant impact in the NBA.
By contrast, Dean Smith avoids touting his recruits - and such as Bobby Jones, Robert McAdoo, Walter Davis, Mitch Kupchak, Charlie Scott, Phil Ford and Mike O'Karen all of a sudden beat the tar out of heels who took them lightly.
Whatever, Driesell is on the trail of players who he hopes will lift him back among the top 10 coaches. One scout who predicted Driesell's present problems before they took shape said: "He's in with 'The Answers.' If he gets the kids he wants (a guard in Philadelphia and another in Kentucky seem the top priorities), he'll be back in two years."
But there will be more frustration first.