Lefty Driesell has reason to believe "maybe this year will be better than the last."
No, he didn't spend his December hanging out with the Counting Crows. Instead, the former Maryland basketball head coach has reason to think that after again being named a finalist for induction to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Feb. 17, there's something different about this year's class that could finally lead to his induction.
"One good thing about it this year is that there's 13 people up [for induction], right? And only one is a [men's] college coach," Driesell said during a
Glenn Clark Radio
interview Feb. 19. "[Former Rockets coach] Rudy Tomjanovich is a professional coach and there's a couple of girls … the rest of them are great players."
He's certainly right about that. Thanks to a policy change that allows players to now be considered just three years after retirement instead of the traditional five, this year's group of finalists is loaded. Legendary point guards Steve Nash and Jason Kidd as well as legendary shooting guard Ray Allen are considered by many to be the headliners of the group and almost assured of Hall induction. But there are no other men's college basketball coaches on the list.
The last time Driesell was a finalist was in 2016 -- when fellow college coaches Bo Ryan, Eddie Sutton and Tom Izzo were also up for induction. Izzo was the only one to make it. Ryan failed to make it in 2015 when John Calipari was the only college coach inducted. The last time two college coaches were inducted in the same year was 2014, when fellow Maryland legend Gary Williams went in alongside former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson. The last time a Hall of Fame class didn't include a single men's college basketball coach was 2012. Driesell knows that likely improves his chances this year.
"Last year there were 11 people that got in and only one of them was a college coach (Bill Self)," Driesell said. "So this year, luckily, I'm the only college coach up."
The voting process for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame remains the most secretive of the major sports. In fact, no one even knows who the voters are. But Driesell isn't bothered by that.
"There's 25 people that vote," Driesell said. "Nobody knows who they are. Some of them are maybe sportswriters or coaches or [athletic directors] or whatever. But there's 25 people that vote. That's the way they do it. And you have to get 18 votes to get in. So if you get 17 you're not in -- or 15 or whatever. That's the way it works. It's a very private selection. Nobody knows who they are."
Driesell was inducted to the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007. But now at the age of 86 there's the very real issue of his own mortality. Driesell has recognized that factor.
"[Former Villanova head coach] Rollie Massimino was nominated this year, but he just passed away," Driesell said. "I'd rather get in when I'm alive, to put it that way. [But] I'll be honored whenever I do get in."
Some have speculated one issue that has prevented Driesell from gaining induction was the untimely death of Maryland legend Len Bias in 1986 and Driesell's alleged participation in a "cover-up" by telling an assistant coach to clean up the room where Bias was found dead after a cocaine overdose. But Driesell believes his association with Bias should bolster his Hall of Fame resume.
"I've heard that -- a lot of people have written that," Driesell said. "I hope that's not it. That's what's been said a lot of times. But I certainly hope not. Look, let me tell you something. Maryland is profiting from Leonard Bias right now. You know who played in the All-Star Game last night? What's his name, the center from Minnesota? Karl-Anthony Towns! Did you read in
Sports Illustrated a couple years ago when he first signed to go to the NBA that his favorite player was Leonard Bias? The writer asked him, 'How do you know about Leonard Bias?' He said, 'I've seen film of him, and I've got his jersey.' Yeah, Karl-Anthony Towns.
"There's a lot of players I bet you that played at Maryland after Leonard Bias that went there [because of him]. I know some of them. Walt Williams said that. Tony Massenburg and a lot of them said they came to Maryland because of Leonard Bias. Leonard Bias was a great guy and a Christian and he just made a bad, bad mistake. I loved Leonard Bias and still do. He was one of the finest young men I ever coached."
This will be Driesell's fourth time as a finalist for the Hall of Fame, but he hasn't been jaded by the process. He's instead remained upbeat that his 786 career wins and having led four different schools to the NCAA Tournament (Maryland, Davidson, James Madison and Georgia State) throughout his career will finally be viewed as enough to warrant induction.
"No, not really," Driesell said. "I can say things that are good sometimes you wait for … I can't do anything more! I can't win any more games! I told you, it's hard to get in there.
"It's quite an honor to just be considered. I'm very excited, just saying my prayers that I'll get in. It would be the capstone of my career. Not just for me, but for all of the players who played for me and for all of my assistant coaches and managers and the four universities I coached at. It would be a great honor. I just keep my fingers crossed."
For more from Driesell, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox