As Lefty Driesell waited for his luggage yesterday morning at National Airport, someone asked him if he would be coaching at Maryland next season.
"If the Lord's willin'," Driesell said, sidestepping the question.
"Yeah, I'll be back," he finally said when pressed. "I'll be back and I'd like to have a center so I can put Buck (Williams) back at forward where he belongs next year."
Tuesday, Driesell will fly to Illinois in pursuit of what that elusive center. He will be seeing Uwe Blab, a 7-foot-2 West German transfer student who could be the center Driesell has been seeking if the left-hander can charm him out of going to the University of Illinois.
But whether Blab comes east next year or not, Driesell and the rest of the Maryland team that flew home yesterday will have to look back on a season that started with so much promise and ended in stunning embarrassment with 99-64 Mideast Regional loss to Indiana Saturday.
"I don't know if it was a disappointment," Driesell insisted. "Saturday was embarrassing, no doubt about it. But I said before this season started that this team had deficiencies, that we weren't big enough. You could see what I was talking about against Indiana."
Against the Hoosiers, the 6-foot-8 Williams was outnumbered and over-powered by Ray Tolbert, Landon Turner and Ted Kitchel. All season the Terps had trouble with big teams because their forwards, Albert King and Ernest Graham, were finesse players, more comfortable working outside than inside.
But that does not explain why the Terps regressed, despite having everyone back from a 24-7 team that produced an ACC regular-season title a year ago.
"It's true that our seniors didn't play as well this year as last year," Driesell said, speaking of King, Graham and Greg Manning, all of whom dropped off statistically this season. "I think they all felt a lot of pressure because of what they did last year.
"Heck, I wouldn't have wanted to have been in Albert's shoes this year. He turned down a million dollars to come back and he had to prove himself again, earn that million dollars all over again. And Ernest, all he ever talks about is pro this, pro that. I think they felt a lot of pressure because of all that talks about contracts and first-round draft choices and stuff.
"I still think Albert will get a good contract. He doesn't have the honors this year that he had last year, but people know he can play. They know what he can do."
Driesell said he was not disappointed by his team's 21-10 record.
"Like I said, we weren't that big up front and we had one guard who couldn't really score," he said. "We won three less games this year than last year in a league where teams like North Carolina, Virginia and Wake Forest all improved. I don't think that's so bad."
Many players echoed that theme, that they had nothing to be ashamed of. "There are a lot of teams out there that would give their left arms to have a 21-10 record," Manning said.
But this team expected more because it had the No. 1, No. 4 and No. 5 scorers in school history, plus the player destined to leave as the leading rebounder in school history. Yet the ACC record was 8-6, and the end came in humiliating fashion.
"Sometimes success is hard to handle," Driesell said. "Maybe the guys didn't work as hard last summer as they did the year before. I don't know. It's hard to say we're that bad because look what we did to Virginia 10 days ago (an 85-62 Maryland victory). We just couldn't put a string of those together."
Now Driesell will try to build his team around Williams next season. But, he says, he will do that with Williams as a forward.
"If we don't recruit a center, I think I'll probably go with Taylor (Baldwin) at center next season," he said. "I want Buck to be a forward. That's his position."
If Baldwin, the 6-10 junior who missed most of his season with a knee injury, is the center, Charles Pittman and Adrian Branch, the 6-8 De Matha High School star, will share the other forward spot. Herman Veal also will play a larger role off the bench.
Driesell hopes that Jeff Adkins, the 6-5 guard from Martinsville, Va., who already has committed, can play Manning's wing guard spot. The point guard position again will be up for grabs among Reggie Jackson, Dutch Morley and Steve Rivers. Driesell undoubtedly will give Rivers a shot at starting.
Perhaps the saddest development of the last month of the season was the relegation of Morley to the end of the bench. Morley is smart, sees the floor well, plays hard and never complains about being benched. Driesell should remember that next Oct. 15.
But that is a long way off. As he picked up his bag to leave the airport yesterday, Driesell was thinking recruiting, thinking big men. He was looking ahead.