The eyes sparkle a bit more than they have the past two years. The brow is a little more furrowed. The voice has regained its old crackle.

Lefty Driesell is through being mellow.

"You probably will see more stomping this year," Driesell says. "I do my best work when I'm emotional."

Charles G. Driesell is 50 years old and entering his 14th season as head basketball coach at the University of Maryland. His nationally ranked teams and flamboyant personality have been major factors in elevating college basketball in the Washington area, creating interest and raising the competitive level of the sport when hardly anyone else cared.

And now, Driesell, 11th in career victories among active coaches, is fired up again. Some say he had gotten soft, stopped raising hell and doing the things a coach must do to stay on top. Whatever the reason, Maryland is no longer the dominant team in this area.

The Terrapins haven't won an NCAA tournament game in two years and last season lost twice to humble Georgia Tech and three times to North Carolina State. So the question is raised:

Can Driesell bring Maryland back to national prominence?

"This year, I think we'll be right back up there, I don't think there's any question about that," Driesell said recently in a wide-ranging, 90-minute discussion. "We're gonna have a heck of a team this year. I still think our basketball program is one of the top five or six in the country.

"How can people say Maryland isn't a top-notch basketball program anymore? At the beginning of the 1980-81 season we were ranked No. 1 in the country (and finished No. 18)," Driesell said. "Last year, we were down. But if Buck (Williams) hadn't gone hardship (to the New Jersey Nets), we might have very well been in the top 10 again. We won 16 games without him. And I know he'd have won five or six of those close games we lost."

Red Jenkins, coach at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, has known Driesell for years. He says Maryland's success "all depends on Lefty."

"I believe he's coming back," Jenkins said.

"What made Lefty so great was that he was tough. He scratched and clawed at Davidson. Then he got the job at Maryland, and he scratched and clawed there and got great players and made the people in this area stand up and take notice of college basketball. Then, he relaxed a bit. I'm not trying to knock him. It's happened to almost everybody . . . Human nature.

"Now, I see the old fire coming back, the sarcasm with his players at practice. He's getting after them, demanding more."

Driesell said he tried to be quiet, stay on the bench and not jump and yell, "just sit back, be cool and see if I could coach better."

It didn't work.

"I thought about getting out of coaching a lot," he said. "But now, I'm sort of enjoying it again . . . I don't know. It's fun again, probably because I think we'll have a good team this year and a great team next year."

Obviously, Driesell believes he can bring the Terrapins back.

"When we lose, we come back the next day and work twice as hard because he thinks he did something wrong," said Dutch Morley, a former Maryland player who is assisting Driesell while working toward his degree.

Like Morley, Joe Dean Davidson, coach at Dunbar High School, thinks those who say Driesell has lost his touch are exaggerating.

When asked if Maryland can return to the top, Davidson replied, "I don't think they've really gone anywhere. It would be foolish to say Maryland is permanently down because of the last year or so. If anybody thinks Maryland is down, they don't know Lefty Driesell very well.

"Lefty is still dynamic; he's still respected in the area by the parents and the high school coaches, which can't be underestimated. Year before last, he won the ACC regular-season championship. Last year he was kind of down (Maryland finished 16-13). But I think his recent recruits are a step toward that direction again."

In the last two years, Driesell, who gained his reputation as a recruiter, has brought in three highly sought-after high school all-Americas: Adrian Branch from De Matha, Len Bias from Northwestern and Ed Farmer from Wilson, N.C. He already has two more for next year: Terry Long, a 6-foot-8 forward from Richmond, and Keith Gatlin, a 6-5 guard who is generally considered the best senior prospect in North Carolina.

"If Lefty's fired up, he's got reason to be with the kids he's gotten," said Joe Harrington, head coach at George Mason and a former Driesell assistant. "I think he can pull it off."

So why all the talk about Maryland slipping? Primarily because of Georgetown's simultaneous rise to national prominence. Almost weekly, Driesell is asked if he resents Georgetown's success and popularity.

"Why would I resent any of the success that Georgetown is having?" Driesell asks in return. "When John (Thompson, the Hoyas' head coach) first went over there and had a few problems, I used to call him up and encourage him. I think it's great. It's great that AU and GW are going well, too.

"It's helped college basketball in this area. There's no animosity toward Georgetown on my part. I feel sort of partially responsible that I brought that on. When I got here, there were no nationally ranked teams. Now, we got Georgetown, and we'll be there before the season's over."

Davidson, who knows Driesell and Thompson well, said, "Georgetown's rise is phenomenal. It's unfair to compare right now. We have Georgetown at a tremendous peak, and catching Maryland after one of the very few years they've been down. You can't make absolute comparisons on a two-year scale. Those programs can coexist here. There's enough talent in this area to sustain more than two schools, anyway.

Only when asked does Driesell react to Georgetown's success. "The better teams he (Thompson) has over there," Driesell said, "the more that makes me work."

Even if Driesell stokes a bigger fire this year, in many ways he'll be the same old Lefty -- so charming, Adrian Dantley's mother once said, "that he can charm the birds right out of the trees."

He'll still stress preparation and motivation more than Xs and Os and last-minute strategy. "I think coaching (from the bench) is vastly overrated," Driesell said. "If you're a good coach, you coach the same way every year."

For a rare moment, Driesell allowed himself to reflect on the beginning, on why he left a highly successful program at Davidson to take over one in need of rebuilding, on why he would venture into an area where college basketball was as unpopular in 1969 as it is popular today.

"Mr. Kehoe (Jim, Maryland's former athletic director) got me over to his house one night and kinda put the pressure on me. I remember one thing he told me impressed me. Vince Lombardi was coming in that year as head coach of the Redskins and Ted Williams was coming in as manager of the Senators. So, Mr. Kehoe said it would be 'Ted Williams in the summer, Lombardi in the fall and Driesell in the winter.

"That kinda impressed me. I decided that night."