The pressure is on at Maryland.
Eight practices in five days. A curfew. A new offense. And, Coach Lefty Driesell, cigar in hand, stalking the basketball court during practice with a scowl on his face.
"Uptight?" one exhausted Terrapin said yesterday. "After Georgia Tech was uptight. We're way past uptight now."
Maryland's 7-3 record is deceiving, because its victories came as expected over Lafayette, Towson State, St. Peter's, LIU, Maryland-Eastern Shore, George Mason and Ohio University.
One loss was to Georgia Tech, 1-29 lifetime in the ACC before Dec. 23 when it came to Cole Field House. The other two losses were embarrassments--74-53 at North Carolina State and 90-57 at UCLA on national television.
The UCLA game has forced Driesell to face the reality that this team does not have the kind of talent his last 10 Maryland teams had. For that reason, he has spent the last few days drilling his players on a passing-game style of offense--one designed to slow the pace of the game, and, he hopes, help provide some patience for his players, whose combined field goal percentage is .466.
No Maryland team has shot less than 50 percent in a season since 1972, and that group shot .495. The current figure is deceiving because in the three losses, the Terrapins shot 35 percent.
Driesell, who turned 50 on Christmas Day, is in no mood to be asked doomsday questions, in spite of the doomsday atmosphere.
"We're 7-3, big deal," he said yesterday. "We lose a couple games and you got me retiring or something like it's a big deal. Heck, we still got a lot of games to play, and we're still learning, 'cause we're inexperienced."
It is those remaining games, 12 of them against ACC competition, that have Driesell concerned. It is the specter of North Carolina, ranked No. 1 in the country coming into Cole Field House Wednesday and perhaps performing an encore to the State and UCLA debacles, that has Driesell snappish.
"I'm concerned, sure I am," he said. "We did get blown out those two nights, but I think those teams would've beat the Celtics the nights we played them.
"I ain't used to losing like that, I'm not sure I can deal with it if it continues. I'm a competitor. I hate to lose. I guarantee you I'm gonna work my butt off and make sure we're prepared for every game the rest of the way."
According to his players, Driesell has worked everybody's butt off since the team returned from Los Angeles. Three times, including yesterday, the Terrapins have had two-a-days, and the other days the practices have lasted three hours.
Yesterday, after the second practice, Driesell told his players to be in bed by midnight. "And I don't mean back in the dorm room by midnight, I mean in bed, lights out, asleep," he said. "I think maybe it's time we have a curfew every night, the rest of the season."
Later, Driesell tried to play down his actions. "We've had curfews before, maybe not every night, but we've had curfews," he said. "It's not a big deal."
What, he was asked, about the new offense, the possibility that the Terrapins will throw 10 or more passes each possession before shooting? That is very un-Driesell-like.
"I don't want to slow it down, I'm not going to hold the ball, but we've got to be more patient," he said. "We can't run with teams like Carolina, I know that. We just don't have that kind of talent."
It hurts Driesell's pride to concede a lack of talent. He has always taken pride in knowing that his teams were capable of beating just about anyone when they took the court. Now, that isn't true unless he stalls or resorts to gimmicks.
"We had a couple of bad recruiting years," he admitted. "Obviously if we still had Buck (Williams), we'd be better. All we can do right now is work to make these guys better and go out and recruit our butts off."
Already, there has been a major recruiting setback this year. Billy Thompson, the 6-foot-8 forward from Camden, N.J., who is this year's No. 1 high school prospect, has told Driesell he no longer is interested in Maryland. Nevertheless, Driesell says he's still recruiting Thompson.
He also is hoping that transfers Ben Coleman and Ed Farmer will help next year, and insists he is high on Bryan Palmer, the slender 6-10 Pennsylvanian who has committed to Maryland.
"We know we aren't going to be world-beaters," Dutch Morley said. "But that doesn't mean we can't do some things. I've played on three really good teams here, and I'm not ready to write this one off yet. What's the point of working like this if you've given up?"
The players seem to understand the reasoning behind the new offense, and yesterday, their workouts pleased Driesell. "I think we know that against the really good teams we aren't going to win if the game is in the 80s," said Pete Holbert. "We have to keep it in the 60s to have a chance. If we try to run with people, we'll lose."
It has been 11 years since Driesell was put in the position of having to slow the tempo to be competitive. But with his two freshmen, Jeff Adkins and Adrian Branch, struggling because they have been asked to do too much too fast, with the back court unsettled--Steve Rivers may start Wednesday--and with depth a problem, that may be Maryland's only hope.
"The only thing that worries me is if these guys start to accept losing," Driesell said. "Once you do that, you're in big trouble. But that hasn't happened. I ain't giving up yet."
With that he was off to Baltimore to see a recruit. "Let's go, Mel," he said to Assistant Coach Mel Cartwright. "We got work to do."