Maryland basketball Coach Lefty Driesell, apparently still upset about his team's poor showing in the ACC Tournament, stormed out of practice Monday evening, ordered his players off the Cole Field House floor and made them return for a 7 a.m. practice yesterday.
According to team members, he began to get angry about 45 minutes into practice when the second team, running the offensive sets of Miami of Ohio (the Terrapins' first-round opponent in the NCAA Tournament Friday) scored several baskets in a row. "Can't you stop these guys even three times in a row?" he shouted.
The first team stopped the second team twice, but not the third time. At that point, according to the players, Driesell yelled an obscenity at the players and stalked off the floor. The players remained behind to shoot free throws. A moment later, Driesell returned and said, "I told you all to get out of here." He then told the team to return for practice at 7 a.m. yesterday. When they returned to practice, players said, he told them he was shocked that they had not come into the locker room and asked him to resume practice.
During the morning practice, he yelled at ACC player of the year Len Bias for making a bad play and Bias responded by angrily throwing the ball off the backboard. "I was just tired and upset because I made a dumb play," Bias said. "My stomach hurt because I didn't have time to get breakfast because we had to be here so early."
Asked yesterday afternoon, before the second practice of the day, why he got angry Monday, Driesell said, "Because I stay mad." Asked why he brought his players in for a 7 a.m. practice three days before the start of the NCAA Tournament, he said, "because I wanted to."
In the meantime, his players were gingerly answering questions about their coach's action. "I guess he was a little upset," freshman center Derrick Lewis said. "In fact, he was definitely upset. We'd had two days off and he thought we were flat. Losing the way we did Friday (86-73 to Duke) was embarrassing. I think he's cooling off gradually."
Senior guard Jeff Adkins said he thinks the long season (Maryland is 23-11 and played more regular season games than anyone else in the country) might have had something to do with what happened Monday.
"It's been a long season," he said. "I remember last year the week of the NCAA Tournament after we had won the ACC he got mad at us because we had a couple of bad practices. Maybe not like this, though.
"I think the 500 thing (Maryland lost four straight games in February while seeking Driesell's 500th victory) got to him. I mean that was all over the country. He had to go into Duke, Clemson and Georgia Tech and hear all those people chanting, '499, 499,' at him. I don't think he deserved that. Sometimes when a team is flat a coach has to do something to ignite them. I mean, this is it now, one more loss and it's over. We can't afford to be flat."
No player on the team could remember ever practicing twice in one day at this stage of the season. "I don't know what it felt like because it was so early I couldn't feel a thing," Adrian Branch said.
Yesterday's afternoon practice was tranquil but some players privately expressed frustration with Driesell's attitude, saying he has been too critical. Most notably, several players expressed frustration over Driesell's handling of sophomore point guard Keith Gatlin.
Gatlin and Driesell have had several private talks about Gatlin's play in recent weeks. Since the Duke game on Jan. 14 when Driesell benched him for the entire second half (Maryland came from 14 points behind to win) Gatlin's playing time has gone up and down.
His season is perhaps best summed up by two games during the Homeric quest for 500: At Clemson, he played 40 minutes, shot 14 of 15 from the field for 28 points and had seven assists. Two nights later, against Georgia Tech, he played 14 minutes and scored four points.
Driesell has insisted repeatedly that Gatlin comes out because he doesn't play defense well. Gatlin, according to teammates, has lost confidence and feels he will be removed the first time he makes a mistake.
"Last year Keith was loose and confident," one player said. "Now, he's scared out there. He never knows what the man is going to do to him. The only ones who don't have to worry about that are Lenny (Bias) and Adrian (Branch)."
Since Driesell talked to him after he had expressed frustration to reporters after his benching against Duke, Gatlin has been careful about what he has said. Yesterday, icing his knees after practice, he said, "All I want to do is help the team. I'll do whatever coach tells me to do."
"People only remember winners," Branch said, looking to the tournament. "If we want people to remember any of the good things we did this year, we have to perform now. Otherwise, they'll just remember this and the ACC."
Driesell insisted that this season has been a success regardless of what happens this weekend. "This team has exceeded all my expectations," he said. "You don't judge a season on one game or one weekend. I'm already proud of this team regardless of what happens."
The Terrapins will fly to Dayton after practice today and practice there Thursday. They will face Miami (20-10) at 2:37 p.m. EST Friday. If they win, they will meet the winner of the opening game between Louisiana State and Navy on Sunday.
Lewis did not practice yesterday because of a sprained ankle. He became the second player in four days to suffer a sprain by landing on backup center Terry Long's foot (Adkins did the same thing Friday, but returned to practice yesterday) during the brief Monday practice. Trainer J.J. Bush said Lewis should be ready to play Friday. "One day of rest ought to do it," Bush said.