Freeze column: Lefty is still my hero

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 7, 2011

By David Freeze
For the Salisbury Post
One day this past week, I ran into Rick Houston at Food Lion. Rick was a good basketball player and is still a great golfer. His son Nick just finished a stellar season for the Carson basketball team. As usual when I see Rick, the conversation turns soon to sports. I mentioned to him that I had just been to Davidson College for a basketball game on the previous Saturday. The team didn’t have as good of a season as they usually do, but the highlight of that particular day was a return to the campus by Lefty Driesell and about 40 of his players from the decade of the ’60s. Driesell coached at Davidson from 1960-1969.
Rick mentioned that as a youngster, he and Gary Morton attended a basketball camp that was a great memory for him. Morton owns the Stag and Doe between Landis and China Grove. At the same basketball camp, instructors included Driesell, UCLA Coach John Wooden, plus Press Maravich and his son Pete. Wooden still owns the title for the longest undefeated streak, and Pete Maravich owns the career scoring record, both unlikely to be approached again. Maravich did this without the aid of the 3 point shot. But Rick remembered Coach Driesell and named many of his best players.
Lefty Driesell was a very colorful coach who gained national prominence at Davidson, one of the smallest Division 1 schools in the nation. Driesell was hired from the high school coaching ranks to take over what he called “the worst college basketball team in America.” When hired, Driesell had a very small budget for recruiting. He stretched his allowable funds by sleeping in his car and eating at fast food places. Driesell was famous for the “stomp.” He had large feet, and when upset by a referee’s call or player’s effort, Driesell would often make a big show of stomping, and sometimes smashing a chair with his feet.
Driesell won his first game at Davidson, upsetting highly favored Wake Forest. Four times his teams were ranked in the top 10, including one preseason No. 1 ranking. Eleven of his players went on to play in the NBA or ABA. All-Americans during his tenure included Bill Jarman, who graduated in 1963; Terry Holland in 1964, Fred Hetzel in 1965, Dick Snider in 1966; and Jerry Kroll, who finished after Driesell departed in 1970. Hetzel was the first player taken in the 1965 NBA draft. Holland was Driesell’s first recruit at Davidson.
Also honored on that particular day in Davidson was another special player that Driesell recruited. His name was Mike Maloy, a three- time All American. Driesell called Maloy “the best player that I ever coached.” Maloy broke the color barrier at Davidson by becoming the first African-American varsity player. He was the only Davidson player to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Terry Holland, who followed Driesell as coach at Davidson, called Maloy ‘the most enjoyable player he had ever seen.” Maloy did everything with a large smile, and genuinely enjoyed life. He didn’t graduate from Davidson, but went on to sign with the ABA, eventually played in Europe and settled there. He died unexpectedly this past year, still living and teaching in Europe. Maloy’s family was on hand during the ceremony to honor him.
Driesell’s Davidson teams lost twice in the Elite 8 to the University of North Carolina by a total of 6 points, once on a last shot by Charlie Scott. Scott was highly recruited by Driesell also, and he was disappointed at not landing another potential star. Driesell went on to coach at the University of Maryland, James Madison University and Georgia State University. He is given credit for starting Midnight Madness, initiating practice at midnight as soon as the NCAA rules allow. Driesell took his Maryland team out on the track, lined it with cars to light the way and made his basketball players run a mile. He got thousands of students to come out and see it, too.
On this particular day, Driesell brought back memories of his glory days at Davidson. He went on to take four different colleges to the NCAA playoffs, which is still a record. Lefty walked with a cane, but couldn’t stay seated. He kept standing up to wave to the crowd. Driesell joined John Kilgo on Wildcats’ radio for about 10 minutes of the second half. When he arose to leave, the crowd cheered him again. Born on Christmas Day in 1931, Driesell is nearing 80. He still has his famous smile and looks just plain fun to have around. Rick Houston and I thought the same thing years ago.