Past, present converge at Maryland Madness

Past, present converge at Maryland Madness
October 18, 2013, 9:30 pm
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Midnight Madness returns to Cole Field House

COLLEGE PARK--This is where Bias met Jordan. This is where Steve Blake picked Jason Williams’ pocket. This is where Ernie Graham dropped 44 points on NC State.

This is where the heat and the humidity used to hang in the air.

This is where one-named legends were made, men like Lenny and Lefty and Gary and Juan. This is where they earned the banner--that banner.

And this is where the 2013-14 Maryland men’s and women's basketball teams unofficially began their respective seasons on Friday night, at historic Cole Field House on Maryland’s campus in College Park.

There was still that heaviness in the air and in attendance were some of those who helped to build this place, its narrative and its history.

In walked Lefty Driesell, the originator of Midnight Madness, moving slower than he did when he paced these sidelines, but speaking proudly of the school he used to call home with his patented southern drawl.

“This was my life for 17 years,” he said Friday night. “I woke up every morning thinking about Maryland, winning basketball teams.”

In walked Gary Williams, the man who left a high-level job at Ohio State to return to steady the ship at his alma mater and eventually pave the way for the basketball castle that would be built across campus.

“Games in here in January, it didn’t matter what the temperature was outside, it was 100 degrees on the floor,” Williams said. “It was a terrific advantage because we were used to it.”

That heat began to build during the alumni game that featured former mainstays of the program, including Walt Williams, Byron Mouton, and John Gilchrist.

And in walked Juan Dixon, greeted with a standing ovation by the crowd at Cole Field House and playing this alumni game with the same fervor and intensity that helped Maryland win its 2002 national championship.

He was scowling and relentless on defense. He was slapping the ball away and hitting three-point shots from the corner without so much as a moment to pause.

Friday night was as much a celebration of Maryland’s past as it was an affirmation of its changing future, one that leaves the Atlantic Coast Conference behind and embraces the more secure, more lucrative Big Ten.

“The whole history of the school, basically modern history, has been the ACC,” Williams said. “I really believe…that it’s a positive thing for the university and for the teams involved.”

The history of women’s basketball was alive Friday, too, with each of the three women ever able to call themselves head coach at Cole.

Dottie McKnight, Chris Weller, and current coach Brenda Frese all sat courtside.

“Women’s basketball at Maryland is a frontrunner because of this man right here,” Weller said, pointing over to Driesell on her left. “He totally changed the culture.”

The 81-year-old Driesell sat four seats down from Williams on Friday night, using his cane to lift himself to his feet to give a standing ovation after the program’s alumni game.

But Lefty wouldn’t just show up. A promise had to be made.

In a phone call to head coach Mark Turgeon after it was announced that Maryland Madness would take place at Cole, Driesell let Turgeon know.

“I told him, I’m not going to come if I don’t see them scrimmage,” Driesell said with a laugh. “I want to see what kind of team he’s going to have.”

And that’s where past and present merge. 

Turgeon’s team has NCAA tournament hopes with the Big Ten on the horizon, a team with depth, a coach with something to prove, and one final season in the ACC to make it happen.

Three-point shooting is a question. Point guard play is a question. But this is the year, tradition and all, for Turgeon & Co. to secure that berth.

Mark Turgeon's introduction in front of the crowd at Cole Field House Friday night was shortly after Lefty Driesell and Gary Williams walked out of the tunnel. As he jogged out, Turgeon first raised his hand and made a “V” shape, then he pumped his fist, a nod to the signature moves of his predecessors.

“I was excited during practice. I was excited after practice. I was excited when I walked into the building,” Turgeon said. “Tonight was a cool night. It was one of those nights you’ll always remember.”

And so begins Maryland's future.