No one knows who will be introduced first to a packed, multigenerational crowd at the old gym in College Park. Might be Lefty. Might be Gary. Might be Juan Dixon or Buck Williams or Lenny Elmore or Tom McMillen or all of them at once, striding to center court, dusting off the cobwebs of so many pulsating games, so many perfect memories.
The only certainty is the greatest men of Maryland basketball won’t be coming through the Cole Field House tunnel Friday night as much as they will be coming through time.
“I’m excited just sitting in here right now,” said Mark Turgeon, the Terrapins coach, cupping his chin from a courtside seat Thursday morning.
Turgeon ensured Maryland Madness, the first NCAA-sanctioned practice of the season, would take place in Cole for the first time since 2001 , and it will include many of the school’s all-time greats during a ceremony about an heirloom of a facility as much as a storied program.
Rims. Stanchions. Oak floor. Decals. They’ve all been imported with the memorable players and coaches as Cole, home now to intramural soccer practices, gets gussied up once more for old ACC time’s sake.
“Kevin [Anderson] and I have talked about doing it since I took the job here,” Turgeon said of the school’s athletic director. “Logistically we just couldn’t get it done earlier, but this year just felt right. It’s not cheap to do, but it just felt like this has meant so much to the history of men’s basketball that to bring it back was the right thing.”
No other on-campus arena ever hosted multiple NCAA Final Fours, just as no other was the site of seven upsets of top-ranked teams.
Inside the main entrance are old black-and-white photos, some showing the ground dug out during the first weeks of construction, others commemorating special games and legendary players.
Along with the nostalgia, of course, comes a tinge of Midnight Sadness.
Maryland begins its final season in the ACC before moving to the Big Ten next year, a fact that brings even more finality to the proceedings. Turgeon is acutely aware.
“Well, my whole thing is this: I love being in the ACC,” he said. “I love coaching in the ACC. I love being a part of the ACC. I love coaching against Coach K and Duke and Roy Williams and North Carolina. And we’re going to try to make this last year as special as we can. It’s been 60 years.
Turgeon’s players were peppered with Big Ten questions at ACC Media Day.
It was almost as if no one knew a program went from 17 to 25 wins in a year and now has a chance to be tournament-worthy for the first time in the post-Gary Williams era.
Given Turgeon’s ties to KU and the ACC, he is asked, would this have been a dream job if he knew he was headed to the Big Ten in 2011?
“I can’t answer that because I don’t know what my emotions would have been during the time of the recruitment,” Turgeon says. “But to me, I’m here because of Maryland. Maryland is a great job. It’s going to continue to be a great job no matter what league we’re in. Kids want to come to Maryland.
“I know where you’re trying to go, but we don’t know what lies ahead in life. I am just so happy here — good church, good schools for the kids.”
Not a bad tradition for his employer, either.
Completed in 1955, the William P. Cole Jr. Student Activities Building cost just $3.3 million to build. If it opened minds and ushered in social change the night of March 19, 1966, when all-black Texas Western dunked on Adolf Rupp’s all-white Kentucky, Cole also was very, very good to Maryland.
The Terrapins won 486 games there, lost just 151 and slayed seven No. 1 teams. Thirty-one Terps who played at Cole played in the NBA. The one who should have made it is still revered as the most breathtaking of all. Spiritually at least, Len Bias will also be at Cole on Friday night.
Just walking around Cole on Thursday and taking in the grainy photographs and the old scoreboard, it’s time the NCAA and the school find the means to designate Cole Field House as a museum to college basketball. Intramural soccer practice just feels beneath it.
“I think the floor is going to look good when they get it done,” Turgeon said, peering out across the hardwood. “What’s it’s really done is it’s woken up all the old-timers. I’ve heard from Lefty seven times since the day we announced it.
“I knew about [Texas Western-Kentucky],” he added. “I knew there were NCAA tournament games here, Final Fours. I heard Roy talk about it at Kansas. But I really didn’t know the depth of it — all the great players that played in this building, all the guys that went onto the NBA, all-Americans . . .”
Turgeon said he has been conscripted to walk out of the tunnel of his predecessors to give a two-minute speech Friday night. Long before his current team takes the floor for dunks and shooting contests and planned dances, a 48-year-old established big-time coach plans to become an enchanted kid of maybe 12.
“I’m going to be a fan tomorrow night,” he says. “This means a lot to a lot of people around here, and I’m just happy to be part of it.”