DG MARTIN COLUMN: Lefty Driesell in his own words

Coach Lefty Driesell died on Feb. 17.

D.G. Martin

He coached successful basketball teams at Davidson, Maryland, James Madison and Georgia State.

I wanted to honor him now, but I have written so many columns about him, I thought it might be a better idea to let him speak for himself.

I can do this now thanks to my friend, the late Julian Pleasants, who was a history professor at the University of Florida. Pleasants specialized in interviewing important people about their lives and careers.

Pleasants and I spent almost two days a few years ago recording hours and hours of Lefty’s recollections. So, in honor of Lefty and Julian, I’m sharing a few of those stories.

In 1960, in his first game as a college coach, Lefty’s Davidson team beat top-ranked Wake Forest.

Lefty shared his feeling that it might have been time to quit:

“Because I had a great record in high school. I was 99 and 14, if you look up my record in high school, and so then I win my first college game. I told my wife Joyce I may as well quit. I was just teasing, I guess, but I sort of felt like it. I said I know I can coach now in college.”

Instead of quitting, he set about recruiting and now has a bag full of stories including one about future great Don Davidson. “I really got along with his dad good, and his mother, too, and so they brought him down for a visit and he liked it and we signed him because I told him — this is just like a little joke — I told him, I said, ‘Don, you go to Ohio State — or some of the other people that were recruiting him — and they’ll put your name on the back of the jersey.’ I said, ‘I’m going to put your name on the front of everybody on the team.’ ”

His recruiting success brought his team national attention, and his fans wanted Davidson to play top ranked Duke.

Driesell explained how Duke was persuaded to come to the Charlotte Coliseum to play Davidson in 1963. “Oh, yeah. So, I called Vic [Bubas the Duke coach] up. See now, everybody plays guaranteed games, which I despise, but this wasn’t that kind of guaranteed game. We were playing the number two team in the country, and I said, ‘Vic, we’ll give you ten thousand dollars. I’ll send you the check today and you can give it to Eddie Cameron [Duke’s athletic director] or whatever.” So, I told some of [the big Davidson supporters] in Charlotte.

“They wrote me a check for ten thousand dollars, and I sent it to Vic, and I said, ‘Now this is up front. You’re going to get fifty percent of the gate if we fill it up, and I said, ‘I know we’re going to fill it up, there’s going to be eleven thousand, six hundred, sixty-six people there at fifteen dollars a head,’ — or whatever it was —‘but I mean something happens and we don’t fill it up, you’ve got ten [thousand dollars]. So, he said, ‘okay.’ That was the first game we ever played in the Charlotte Coliseum.

“Art Heyman played and Jeff Mullins and Jay Buckley. They had a great team. In fact, Art Heyman, who was, I think, probably one of the best players that ever played in the ACC. He was an animal. So, I think the score was tied or something or maybe we were up. No, we must have been up. So, he was dribbling the ball up the court for the winning basket and Barry Teague came up behind him and stole the ball like that, and Heyman: ‘He got me! He fouled me! He fouled me!’ I mean they didn’t call a foul, but Barry went to the free throw line later on and locked it up with a couple free throws.”

Davidson won 72-69.

Lefty told many more great stories. If my editors allow, I will share a few more sometime soon.

D.G. Martin, a retired lawyer, served as UNC-System’s vice president for public affairs and hosted PBS-NC’s “North Carolina Bookwatch.”