Well, I dunno, you know. People been fussin' about the Lefthander ever since he pulled into Cole Field House 16 years ago, in a fancy car some Davidson fat cats bought hopin' to keep him.

Some say he's an institution, that he pretty much invented basketball in the Washington area; others figure he ought to be in one, for assault of the mind. The way they tell it, if you asked Lefty about picks he'd say to call a hardware store.

I say let's look at the "sastistics" . . .

They all but scream that Charles Grice Driesell surely can coach, which is important.

And that he can survive, which is a whole lot better.

He is one victory shy of 500, Maryland having held off Wake Forest on the road last night. A few coaches smarter than Driesell haven't won that many, and lots more never will.

Some coaches have a fire in their belly; Driesell arrived with one so mighty you could see it glow in every home east of Guam that had a kid who could play above the rim.

Truth is, Driesell would have preferred to wait a year before assuming control at Maryland; ludicrous as that sounds now, he honestly thought he could win the national championship at Davidson.

"I had everybody back from a team that went 27-3 (and missed the Final Four by a Charlie Scott jump shot)," he said. "Plus, the leading scorer in the history of the school (Bryan Adrian) was comin' up from the freshman team.

"I told (Maryland athletic director) Jim Kehoe when he first came to me that if he'd let me coach one more year at Davidson, I'd take the job. That's what I wanted, to stay at Davidson one more year."

Strangely, Driesell's first victory at Davidson may well have been his best. Here he was, fresh out of high school coaching, brassy as a door knocker but at a college famous for statesmen rather than sharpshooters.

So little Davidson is about to do battle with a Wake Forest team that would win two straight ACC titles and finish third once in the NCAA tournament.

Anyway, Lefty puffs out his chest in the pregame meeting and says he hasn't lost an opening game in his life and doesn't plan to start now. He even predicts the numbers for the Wake wake.

"I said: 'Here's what the score's gonna be tonight.' I also told 'em how we had to hold Billy Packer (yes, it was that long ago) and how many points each of our guys had to have.

"The score I put down was something like 59-57. And it turned out to be 59-54. Or something like that. It was almost perfect, what I'd forecast."

Actually, it was 65-59, and so stunning was the upset that Driesell joked that maybe he ought to retire right there on the spot.

Unbeaten.

One-and-oh perfect.

"Next game," he laughed, "Catawba beat us."

A few years later, almost nobody did, and he arrived at Maryland talking "UCLA of the East" and strutting onto the court to "Hail to the Chief."

Always aiming for the heavens, he rarely has gotten above the ionosphere. But he also has rarely been ordinary, dipping below 19 victories only twice in the last 13 seasons.

"Some of his controversy was good," said the man who hired him, Kehoe. "It did excite; it did, maybe, inflame. But it generated interest.

"Remember how it used to be? We were nothing. And all of a sudden we had waiting lists of hundreds of people for season tickets."

He mentioned the coach Driesell replaced, the classy but colorless Frank Fellows, and said: "The man who you sometimes invite into your home to play bridge is not always the man you hire to run your store."

The store always has been clean. Not so much as a hint of a recruiting scandal. And whose program would you want just now, Lefty's or UCLA's?

His doubters will get no support here today. We won't dwell on Dean Smith or play Name That Swoon. Even the Dukies might tilt the needles on those bald heads toward full this once.

Beating South Carolina his second season is the Maryland victory Driesell cherishes most. The Terrapins had been humiliated earlier on the road; Driesell had been clobbered by a Gamecock tough named John Ribock.

"It was like revenge," he said, meaning in every way possible. "They were ranked second in the country when we won, and we were down a lot near the end (after about 35 minutes of stallball).

"We stole three straight inbounds passes (and won, 31-30). It was like the good Lord let us win that one. The place erupted; baskets got torn down.

"That kinda got people excited about Maryland basketball."

After finally winning the ACC tournament last season, Driesell said he'd once fantasized about strapping the trophy to the hood of his car and cruising the state of North Carolina.

What would he do if a shot-blocking center on the order of Moses Malone were dropped on his doorstep by benevolent and just hoop gods and Maryland won the NCAA title?

"I'd probably retire," he said. "It'd be a good excuse for that. Coaching is a young man's game. So time-consuming. Gotta go all the time.

"I don't go as much as I should right now. We've signed four players (for next season), and I've only seen one of 'em play. I'll see 'em before the season's over. But 20 years ago I'd have seem 'em play a couple of times by now."

He was in the corridor leading from the Maryland dressing room to the tunnel of Cole. Pictures of his best teams line the walls; there is a motivational sign -- in Latin.

In what?!

If that don't beat all. Here Lefty has seemed as simple as a country tune all these years and suddenly he tacks up: "Labor Omnia Vincit."

What's it mean?

"Oh, how do I know?" he snorts. "I can't even read English."