Lefty or Gary? Terps honor Williams with court name

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider
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Driesell (right) honored Williams after passing his mark for most Maryland wins Feb. 11, 2006. (Getty Images)  
Driesell (right) honored Williams after passing his mark for most Maryland wins Feb. 11, 2006. (Getty Images)  

There was no need to pick between Gary and Lefty.

Maryland made the announcement on Tuesday afternoon that it will name the court at the Comcast Center after recently retired Terps coach Gary Williams.

It's one of those nice, feel-good, well-earned gestures to the Hall of Famer who brought Maryland its lone NCAA championship, but it was completely unnecessary.

The majority of the Maryland fan base sided with Williams over Driesell in the decision who to bestow the honor, but it wasn't clear cut despite the fact that it was unanimously approved by the university's Facilities Naming Committee, the Chair of the Alumni Association Board of Governors and Chair of the Board of the University of Maryland College Park Foundation.

"It's a tough question," John Lucas, who played for Driesell in the 1970s, told CBSSports.com just hours prior to Tuesday's announcement.

It was, in essence, one that didn't need to be answered.

Lefty is a legend, the guy who coaches still laugh and reminisce about for his brash personality and outrageous recruiting methods.

He brought studs to College Park -- from Lucas and Len Elmore to the late Len Bias. He also brought 348 victories, eight NCAA tournament appearances and an NIT title to the school in his 17-year tenure with the Terps.

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"He put Maryland on the map," Lucas said. "If you talk about numbers, Lefty would have to be the winner."

Driesell won nearly 70 percent of his games while at Maryland.

But there were two things he never did.

Win a national title, that of the NCAA tournament variety, and coach in the Comcast Center.

Advantage, Williams.

Williams' numbers stack up right up there against the Lefthander. He was 461-252 in 22 years at his alma mater. Williams went to the Final Four in 2001 and then won it all the following season, doing it while going up against ACC powers North Carolina and Duke.

He didn't do it with the same flair that Driesell went about his business, who proclaimed -- immediately after taking the job in 1969 -- that he would make Maryland the "UCLA of the East."

Sure, there was slippage towards the end for Williams, and that's where the skeptics enter into the equation. Over the past eight seasons, the Terps were left out of the NCAA tournament as many times as Williams got them into the field.

However, as college basketball coaches began to sink deeper and deeper into the underworld of agents and runners, Williams refused to sell out.

He won the national title without a single McDonald's All-American on the roster.

Some will take shots at him for his inability to recruit at the highest level. I was one of them, but still applaud his effort and ability to go toe-to-toe with all the big boys for the bulk of his career without compromising his integrity. It's also difficult not to become enamored with Driesell when informed of his unorthodox and creative recruiting methods.

Driesell built the program, but Williams had to rebuild after it was left in shambles following Bias' death and, subsequently, Driesell's departure. Remember, he took over in 1990 and was hit with the only sanctions which truly matter -- no postseason play in 1991 and 1992 and no television in his first season.

Williams, now a special assistant to athletic director Kevin Anderson following his abrupt decision to retire in May, had remained silent on the topic on whose name should be written on the court.

"I'm honored and humbled to receive this recognition," Williams said in a statement Tuesday. "It's important to remember that the success we achieved at Maryland was a team effort and all the coaches, student-athletes and staff who were here are a big part of this. I'm very appreciative of the effort by Kevin Anderson, President Loh, Chancellor Kirwan and everyone else who has been a part of making this happen."

Driesell, never one to shy away from running his mouth, deferred when reached on Monday night prior to the announcement.

"I don't want to discuss that," Driesell said. "I don't want to get into it."

So, with all due respect to my boss (a Maryland alum), I went to the ultimate diehard Maryland fan.

"Gary built the building," ESPN's Scott Van Pelt said. "The name on the floor should be Gary's. But having said that, Lefty needs to be recognized as well. Maryland basketball had cache because of Lefty."

Van Pelt's suggestion was to throw up a life-sized statue of the Lefthander -- one fans can't miss -- just outside of the Comcast Center. If that's not enough, toss up a banner in the rafters of the building to further cement his legacy.

Lefty didn't sound all that excited when I broached the idea.

"Lefty, are you still there?" I asked.

Still silence from the 79-year-old.

Both Williams and Driesell are more than deserving, but it's clear that one of them would feel slighted by the decision.

That honor now belongs to Lefty.

Lute Olson has the court at the McKale Center named after him and Bobby Cremins had the same done to him down at Georgia Tech, so now it's become the new arena fad, naming floors after ex-coaches.

However, this decision is far more difficult -- and there's no reason to make a choice.

"Kids aren't going to the school because of who the court is named after," Lucas said matter-of-factly.

And right now, for Maryland, spending time on securing players is far more important than hurting feelings. Both Williams and Driesell will tell you that.

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