Lefty Driesell, former basketball coach at the University of Maryland, said yesterday drug testing of athletes should be mandatory because cocaine is a "performance enhancing" drug that can give users an unfair advantage.

He was asked yesterday to elaborate on statements he made Friday at a conference on drugs in sports at the University of Rhode Island. At that conference he said: "I'm a firm believer that, if you know how to use cocaine and use it properly, it can make you play better. So that's why I'm for testing {everyone}."

At the conference, he noted that four of the best players in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference -- Maryland's John Lucas, North Carolina State's David Thompson, and Walter Davis and Phil Ford of North Carolina -- have admitted to drug-related problems.

He said in response to questions from the audience that he would not be surprised if cocaine use had affected the outcome of games in the ACC and elsewhere. He said last night that, without proof, he couldn't speculate on specific instances.

Yesterday he said: "I really believe cocaine can be performance enhancing. That's not the only reason I'm in favor of drug testing. The FBI agents I have talked with {during their visits to the University of Maryland} have said that people who are into cocaine are sitting ducks, easy targets for gamblers and other criminals. And it's no doubt cocaine is detrimental to an athlete's health, mental and physical well-being.

"But back in 1957, when I was working on my master's degree, one of the research papers I was assigned had to do with performance enhancing drugs. At the time, I had never heard of cocaine and I doubt many people had. But in doing the research I discovered that cocaine speeds up the heart rate, increases adrenaline, and that can enhance performance."

Driesell, currently an assistant athletic director at Maryland, said: "Just from a competitive standpoint, if I'm playing against somebody and they have a couple of players on cocaine, and they are going to beat me because they are on cocaine, that isn't right."

Bob O'Leary, a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Agency in Washington, said that Driesell "is right in a sense about cocaine being a stimulant, but that the statement {that cocaine can enhance performance} can still be misleading.

"It is physically a stimulant, but only in the short term," O'Leary said. "It increases the blood pressure and the respiration rate. And if an athlete is fatigued, cocaine can reduce the sensation of fatigue.

"But the sensation -- depending on several factors, including the purity, the person and how it is ingested -- doesn't last long, maybe as long as an hour or so. Smoking or free-basing is of higher intensity, but is even more short term, a few seconds.

"All it does is fool the brain. It doesn't cure anything. The body will still have to pay for it later."