Overcome with emotion at a late afternoon news conference, Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell yesterday called Len Bias "the greatest basketball player that ever played in the Atlantic Coast Conference."
In the crowded foyer of Cole Field House, Driesell said, "I really don't know whether I'm up to this, but I guess Leonard would want me to say something. I've known Leonard since he was in about the sixth grade. He's like a son to me, so I think you can appreciate the difficulty of the way I feel right now.
"I think he's the greatest basketball player that ever played in the Atlantic Coast Conference. You know, he improved from averaging seven points a game to 23 points a game. But . . . more important than that, the last five or six years we've had a religious retreat up in the mountains . . . Leonard was a born-again Christian."
It was the third time in Driesell's coaching tenure at Maryland that a Terrapin basketball player had suddenly died. In 1976, Chris Patton and Owen Brown died two months apart, Patton a victim of Marfan's syndrome and Brown of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Athletic Director Dick Dull said Bias had "routinely" passed all physicals and drug tests and that there was "absolutely no indication" of Marfan's syndrome or any other health problem.
However, police sources said there was evidence of cocaine in his urine.
In answer to a question about whether he felt drugs or alcohol played a part in Bias' death, Driesell said, "I really don't think so. I don't know. I'm not really concerned about that right now."
Dull said Maryland athletes undergo "regular" and "random" drug testing. "We have a mandatory drug testing program as part of our routine physicals. All student athletes here go through that mandatory testing and we also have random testing throughout the year for all of those people, as well.
"There has never been any indication of anybody involved in the men's basketball team that have been involved with drugs . . . I can say to you that I have not had any information reported to me about any athlete at Maryland involving drugs this year."
Driesell mentioned the scheduled autopsy, but said it was "not going to bring him back. That's all I was praying for, that he would make it through."
In his most emotional moment, Driesell said, "As my wife said, he's in a better position right now than we are. He's at home with the Lord. I really sincerely believe that, and his mother is a very, very strong Christian woman, as is his dad.
"I'm sad but I'm not even worried because I know where Leonard is, I know he's in heaven. We'll miss him. I love you, Leonard, and I miss you. I'll see you in heaven one day."
With that, Driesell stepped away from the microphones. Students wiped away tears as Dull answered most questions.
"This has not been easy for any of us," Dull said. "Right now we're grieving the loss of one of our own. We're less concerned as to how it happened . . . we're more concerned with getting through the grief with the players that we have remaining with our team."
Dull described Bias as "on the threshold of being one of the great, great basketball players ever."
"Three weeks ago I met him here in the hallway. He indicated to me with that big smile on his face that there were two things that he wanted to do. One, he wanted to be graduated from the University of Maryland. Secondly, he prayed that he would be drafted by the Boston Celtics."
Dull said Bias, who was in summer school, needed "nine or 10 credits" to graduate, and would have graduated in August.
Asked to describe events of this morning, Driesell said he went to Leland Memorial Hospital after receiving a call and that doctors told him that Bias had "cardiac arrest and his heart stopped beating and they couldn't get it beating."
He said the players were "all at the hospital. They came over to my house and prayed together and talked to the chaplain."
Driesell said he spoke with Bias on the phone Wednesday from Boston. "He called me from the Reebok office in Boston, about 3 o'clock. Said he was very happy and that he was talking with Reebok and thought he was going to sign a contract with them yesterday, which I think he did."
University Chancellor John B. Slaughter, who also spoke at the news conference, said in a statement that Bias "was a wonderful young man who made a positive impact upon everyone he met. . . . I told Lenny last year that the thing that I admired about him most was his selflessness and his support for his teammates. He received his greatest pleasure in seeing them succeed."
On campus, teammates were stunned.
"There really isn't anything to say, I just know we all loved him," said Keith Gatlin, who lived in the same dormitory suite as Bias.
"You could tell he was happy. There was so much excitement with the draft and he was excited.
" He was a great athlete, a great person. He had everything you'd ever want. Great family, great guy . . . I smile right now, but I want to cry so bad."
Gatlin said he saw Bias Wednesday night, but he went to sleep and didn't know anything about Bias leaving his dormitory about 2 a.m. Gatlin said that, when he woke up, paramedics were on the scene. "I was in a state of shock," Gatlin said. "I was just worried about Lenny."
Funeral arrangements for Bias were not complete as of last night.
Driesell and Advantage International, the management firm that represented Bias, said they planned to set up a fund to assist the Bias family in defraying funeral and related expenses and to provide scholarship support for Maryland students. Donations may be sent care of Coach Lefty Driesell, University of Maryland, Basketball Office, Box 295, College Park, Md., 20740. Washington Post staff writers Scott Fowler and Ed Nicklas contributed to this report.