What can be said about a sophomore basketball team that died? Well, almost died, it being much too early to inter players so lately out of swaddling clothes. To start with, you can say for certain that the Maryland Terrapins' love story with the press and the polls is cooling. The reasons are three: Maryland is suffering from the dread overpromotion pox, the dread press-release measles and the dread bighead mumps. The young Terrapins, and in particular Tom McMillen, have been praised, pampered and publicized so much by their loquacious coaching staff—Charles G. (Lefty) Driesell and his trusty sidekick, George (The Rave) Raveling—that they were in real danger of becoming the most overrated team since Wayne and Shuster.
But even Driesell began to taste sawdust when, despite its 6-1 record, his team came on looking lethargic, ramshackle and very human. Following a shoddy 73-60 victory over Loyola of Baltimore, the coach could stand it no longer. Instead of talking about his Terps, Lefty decided to talk to them. "Turrble, turrble. Yew censored gahs are actin' lak a bunch of censored prima donnas and Ah tell yew whut," he screamed at them in the locker room. "Yew maht not go on home for Christmas. Ah have had bad personnel and bad defense and bad shooters in mah day, but Ah have never coached a bunch of pussy cats who don't hustle lak yew gahs. Yew are the most selfish censored individual gahs Ah ever saw and if yew don't git straight yew gonna git the livin' dog-censored kicked out of yew. Ah mean yew gahs are in for a long-censored season!"
It was masterful, vintage Driesell—carefully staged, orated in tones that would compete with the noise of a passing elephant herd—and it may have helped some to cure the Terps of the Dreads. Two nights later in Hampton, Va., Driesell watched as Maryland put together its best and most balanced effort while appearing as awesome as its headlines in a 102-79 rout of Holy Cross.
Luckily for his sweet young things, in addition to talking his team into prominence, Driesell scheduled them there, too. In the early going Maryland has faced more dogs than June Lockhart encountered on her trek through the Lassie series. There is a neat theory working here. It concerns employment security.
"Everybody talks about our easy non-conference schedule," says Raveling, "but check the post office. All the guys who had the tough early schedules are out now delivering the holiday mail. Check John Wooden. He's a great coach, but if he played toughies in December he might be runnin' the mouse machine out in Anaheim."
Indeed, the UCLA coach has already been criticized in Los Angeles for his December schedule, but in contrast to UCLAOTE (Driesell sometimes refers to Maryland as "the UCLA of the East") the real UCLA has won all its easy games convincingly. Maryland has gasped through its breathers. Still, if Driesell had not tipped his hand by playing Virginia so early, he would be undefeated, ranked third in the polls and fooling everybody, which says something about hoopla over hoop play.
Driesell himself is nobody's fool. A roughhewn, hard-sell coach from the Virginia docks, he has always hidden his basically sweet nature from the public. During nine years at Davidson his teams won 20 or more games six times and reached the finals of the NCAA's East Regional twice, losing to North Carolina on both occasions. When he could not beat the ACC he joined it. At Maryland he has fashioned a Tammany Hall of a basketball machine in all aspects of organization, right down to the purchase by his staff of coordinated suits from Georgetown's elegant men's shop, Britches. The Maryland coaches even shoot their cuffs in unison. One of his fine sophomores, Len Elmore, characterizes Driesell well. "He's the flimflam man," says Elmore. "It's a confidence game with Lefty, but you buy it because he's honest about it, and true."
Driesell has struggled just above .500 for two years at Maryland while packing in the crowds with his stompin', V signs and dramatic entrances to the tune of Hail to the Chief. Also, he has been working hard at getting the players needed to contest for a national championship.
His biggest catch, of course, is McMillen, the 6'11" honor student who set scoring records at Mansfield (Pa.) High right up to the time his uniform was retired into the Basketball Hall of Fame. It may be no exaggeration to say McMillen is the finest shooter of his size to ever play the game, but his introduction to the big time was a disaster at Virginia—the Cavaliers mortified McMillen by holding him to one field goal while beating Maryland 78-57. Raveling went so far as to call that night "my most humiliating experience in sports"; Driesell's pride was so hurt, says one Maryland man, that "for the first time Lefty doubted his ability as a coach."
McMillen's cotton touch has served him well on other occasions, enabling him to score over 30 points in three games while averaging a remarkable 70% from the floor. But the frustration at Charlottesville was to be repeated. Against Loyola in one of the most intriguing matchups of the season, this dark-haired, pink-cheeked member of the President's Council on Physical Fitness went head to head with a 31-year-old ex-convict named Ed Butler, who proceeded to strip him bare. It was a case of assault and battery, with McMillen ending up with nothing but his shorts and one basket.
The confusion at College Park has been due to a combination of things, inexperience being paramount among them. Simply put, the Terps are in deep trouble when they cannot get the ball to McMillen. In the Virginia and Loyola games, the tall youngster did not move around enough to free himself for openings. A more serious deficiency is in the backcourt where—as one observer points out—Maryland has the most beleaguered guards since Attica.
Junior Howard White is a playground artist, unconditioned to leadership. Sophomores Jap Trimble, through injury, and Rich Porac, through unsteadiness, have not succeeded yet. As a result, the Maryland fast break usually breaks down fast. Junior Jim O'Brien, though 6'7", sometimes has had to take his good jump shot and Bozo the Clown haircut to the backcourt to help out. While all of this has been going on, Maryland's best ballplayer has been lightly regarded Bob Bodell, whose good defense the Terps are going to need all year. Bodell's timely steals probably saved Maryland from another embarrassing loss, this time to Canisius.
Coach Driesell does have some outstanding guards around, but one is in street clothes (Assistant Coach Jim Maloney, a star at Niagara in the '50s) and the other two play for the freshmen. Despite the wealth of tall men that Maryland has recruited, 5'10" freshman Billy Hahn could turn out to be the most important find of all.
"We may have expected too much of these gahs," Driesell drawled last week. "But thet's mah fault. Our ratings ain't gonna be no bunch of baloney when Ah find the raht combination,"
That will take time, naturally, but even Driesell admits that he needs more than time to straighten out his defense. With some combination of McMillen, 6'9" Elmore and 7-foot Mark Cartwright, still another sophomore, in the lineup at all times, the Terps are woefully slow. Although he is embarrassed to use it so often, a "high rise" zone defense has bailed Driesell out of trouble a few times already when quicker teams have made the Terps look like turtles.
Undaunted by the early disappointments, McMillen acknowledges that his biggest adjustment has been "learning to play without a 30-point lead." Many of the Maryland youngsters had never lost a game before that fateful night in Charlottesville; they did not know how to react. Now they know, and the Terps soon should be representative enough.
"Ain't gonna be nobody shove mah players around. Ol' Lefty'll teach 'em," says Driesell with defiance. "We weren't prepared at Virginia. No mo' flukes. We gonna grow up fast. We got the ingredients." Clearly, Ol' Lefty is not quite ready to admit that too much promotion means sometimes having to say you are sorry.