Athletics

Driesell takes his place among basketball immortals

Former JMU men's coach enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame


 
Lefty Driessell-HOF

SUMMARY: Driesell's Dukes won five CAA regular-season titles and the conference tournament championship in 1994. Twice he was named CAA Coach of the Year, and he posted a 159-111 overall record at Madison.


By Khalil Garriott (’04)

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — A James Madison University living legend will earn his rightful place among the immortals in his industry Friday, as Charles “Lefty” Driesell is set to be enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

The first NCAA coach with 100 wins at four different schools, Driesell coached the Dukes from 1988 to 1997. His coaching résumé lacks little – arguably just missing an appearance in the Final Four — and among the top bullet points is making the NCAA Tournament at all four schools he coached.

His mood during Thursday’s press conference at the birthplace of basketball was poignant and reflective as he looked back on his remarkable career.

“Anybody who’s ever coached basketball has a dream of being up here,” he said. “I had some great players, and they’re the ones who put me here. I love them all like brothers and sons of mine.”

Lefty Driesell HOF class
Driesell (third from left) is one of 13 members of the Class of 2018.  Photo courtesy of Jon Lopez / Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame  

The longtime coach emphasized the impact his players had on him. He credited them for shaping his career. Though he never coached fellow 2018 enshrinee Grant Hill, Hill said he was drawn to Driesell’s personality and grew up admiring the larger-than-life coach.

“He was fun. He always had a great quote and a presence about him, and his teams were fun to watch,” Hill said. “When I first started watching basketball, in the early '80s, I lived in the [D.C./Maryland/Virginia] area and Maryland was huge. I remember watching him and watching his teams. As a little kid … I always thought the world of Lefty. I’m just happy for him. It’s long overdue. I’m proud that I get a chance to be in his class here in 2018.”

One of 13 Hall of Fame enshrinees this year, Driesell also lays claim to being the only coach in NCAA history to win conference Coach of the Year in four different conferences. A gym rat since age 10, he cited hard work and a love of the game as keys to his longevity and success.

“We had good players who played together and worked hard,” Driesell said. “My philosophy is the harder you work, the luckier you get. I enjoyed coaching, but I worked my players hard. One thing about coaching I always liked was, you know if you’re doing any good. You play the game, and if you win, you feel good. If you lose, what can we correct so we don’t lose anymore? You can’t always do that with other jobs.”

Lefty Driesell HOF interview

The Norfolk, Virginia, native said he regrets his teams did not always fill the stands at the JMU Convocation Center.

“I think we didn’t do enough advertising and promotion to get more students to the games,” Driesell said of his days at Madison. “We had really good teams. We won the league five straight years.”

The college basketball world owes the phenomenon of “Midnight Madness” to Driesell. It is attributed as his creation, and today takes the form of a fun tradition that all the top programs use to tip off the new season. Its popularity is a testament to the coach’s vision and creativity.

“I didn’t have it for the old people,” he said of Midnight Madness. “I had it for the students. The students, at midnight, are out partying or drinking beer or whatever they’re doing. That’s the reason I had it. … So we used to fill [the arena] up.”

Over 40-plus years, the 86-year-old Driesell coached 1,180 games and won two-thirds of them. That consistency and success rate is far from the norm in today’s college hoops landscape.

“If we hadn’t won, I would’ve probably quit,” said Driesell, known for his unconventional motivational techniques. “Winning is fun.”

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You couldn’t blame Driesell if he got tired of waiting around for his chance to enter the Hall. Eleven years passed between his induction into the College Basketball Hall of Fame and his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which is hoops heaven for fans of the sport. He was a three-time finalist before being elected earlier this year.

Despite the long wait, he said it is water under the bridge now that he has his “Naismith Orange” blazer.

“I was disappointed I didn’t get in, but now that I’m in, I think it was God’s will,” he said. “That’s the way I looked at it.”

At JMU, Driesell is credited with building a winning program and helping to put men’s basketball on the map. His Dukes won five CAA regular-season titles and the conference tournament championship in 1994. Twice he was named CAA Coach of the Year, and he posted a 159-111 overall record at Madison.

One of his calling cards was his work ethic. Driesell was a tireless worker, an attribute that rubbed off on — among others — his son Chuck, who was an assistant coach on his staff at JMU.

“Anybody who is successful works hard,” Driesell said. “And that’s what I’ve tried to impart on all my players. If you work hard, you’re going to be successful in whatever it is. I hope that the players who played for me took that away from me — because they knew I worked hard.”

Driesell said he’s ecstatic to be officially considered among the game’s all-time greats.

 “I’m overjoyed to be in the Hall of Fame,” Driesell said.

Driesell chose Hall of Famers Mike Krzyzewski, John Thompson and George Raveling as his presenters.

Driesell ranks 12th among Division I coaches in all-time wins with an overall coaching record of 786-394 (.666). His teams appeared in 21 postseason tournaments (13 NCAA, 8 NIT).

For more on the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement, visit HoopHall.com and NBA.com/halloffame.

Published: Thursday, September 6, 2018

Last Updated: Friday, September 14, 2018

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