It was a career that saw numerous accolades, over 1,000 games coached and more than 700 wins. Charles “Lefty” Driesell’s career as a head coach came to a close in early 2003, and on Friday night, he’ll take his place in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Few have experienced the level of success Driesell had in his career that spanned over four decades. Driesell led four different colleges — Davidson, Maryland, JMU and Georgia State — in his tenure, winning at least 100 games at each school. He was the first coach to win conference coach of the year in four different conferences. All of his success led him to become a finalist for the Hall of Fame three times before being selected this year.
“I’m a Christian, I believe in God and Jesus,” Driesell said. “I was disappointed I didn’t get in [earlier], now that I’m in, I think it was God’s will.”
Humbled by his recognition for what he did for the game of basketball, it’s those who witnessed his talents who continuously speak highly of him. While it took several years for Driesell to finally have his name enshrined in Springfield, Massachusetts, the people familiar with his career believed he was always destined for the Hall of Fame.
The players — like JMU men’s basketball head coach Louis Rowe — who played for Driesell, knew they were suiting up to play for a hall of fame caliber coach. It wasn’t only his players and assistant coaches that understood how stellar Driesell’s career was. A fellow member in the 2018 Hall of Fame class understood from a young age just how good Driesell was.
“I remember watching him and watching his teams and maybe one day dreaming of playing at Maryland,” seven-time NBA All-Star Grant Hill said. “I always thought the world of Lefty … I’m just happy for him. It’s long overdue. I’m proud I get a chance to be in his class here in 2018.”
One of Driesell’s most notable contributions to college basketball’s growth was his idea of Midnight Madness. Prior to a change in the rules, the NCAA wouldn’t allow teams to start practicing until Oct. 15, and to Driesell — he took that literally.
“I said ‘October the 15th starts one minute past midnight,’” Driesell said. “The first year I just ran the mile then … Then the next year, Maurice Howard ... said, ‘Coach, why don’t we have a scrimmage at midnight?’”
And that’s how it started. It started with Driesell’s teams running the mile, but quickly grew into an event for the students at the school. Even when people told Driesell that he should make it at a time where the older fans could go, he wouldn’t budge.
“I said, ‘I didn’t have it for the old people, I had it for the students,’” Driesell recalled. “Students at midnight are out partying and drinking beer or whatever they’re doing, so that’s the reason I had it for the students.”
While Driesell had a strong career coaching, it wasn’t always about basketball for him. In 1974, Driesell received the NCAA Award for Valor for his part in saving the lives of children stuck in a burning building.
At the time, Driesell was at his beach house in Bethany Beach, Delaware, fishing with a friend around midnight. The two saw a row of houses on fire with smoke coming out of them. Driesell and his friend ran toward the fire, but in his opinion, nothing about what he did was too special.
“I just did what anybody would’ve done,” Driesell said. “We just got the kids out of there, and the paper made a lot of it but we just did what anybody would’ve done.”
From the success on the court to the man he was away from the game, Driesell put together a career that was unlike many others. His enshrinement into the Hall of Fame — a fitting end to a career that spanned so many decades.
“I’m here, at the Hall of Fame, because I had good teams and good players,” Driesell said. “This award goes to the players as much as me, maybe more because they’re the ones that scored the points, won the games and worked out.”
Contact Catie Harper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of Lefty Driesell’s induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.