News - Who's your granddaddy?
Lefty's Panthers the first invited to the dance
If Charles Driesell had been a college football coach, he might have faded from view long ago, undone by NCAA regulations and shrinking scholarships. But Lefty is the consummate basketball coach, the roundball legend whose itch to get the jump on the opposition by making his team run laps at the first allowable second exploded into Midnight Madness.
So when he arrived at Georgia State four years ago to resuscitate the worst program in Division I, he didn't have to con 50 football players into taking a chance on a mystery commuter school. He just had to convince six or seven pretty good basketball players who had flamed out or flunked out of nationally-known programs that he could make them good enough to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
More to the point, he's made the Panthers good enough to attract the attention of NBA teams, a sales pitch not to be underestimated to prospects who've never heard of Georgia State. Including Kevin Morris, who came from New York to Atlanta to play for Bobby Cremins at Georgia Tech and still didn't know State had a team when Cremins suggested Morris take his game elsewhere. Driesell pounced on him just as he lured Tucker's Shernard Long, who left Georgetown following the death of his mother, and Stone Mountain's Darryl Cooper, disenchanted with LSU.
Driesell's appeal is as rock-bottom as it gets: You can play the way you want on offense — as long as you play good defense — and you can do it in front of pro scouts.
"Every team in the NBA's gonna come in here to play the Hawks," Driesell drawls knowingly, "and they're gonna come over watching practice." That isn't idle chatter; Driesell has sent 32 players to the NBA.
Representatives of a handful of NBA teams were at last weekend's Trans America Athletic Conference tournament at the Georgia State Sports Arena. There was plenty of room for them. Saturday's title game against Troy State drew 4,028 screaming fans to the third-floor gym, a TAAC Tournament record but still not anywhere near a sellout.
"This state," says Driesell, seeing an opportunity to tweak the locals while promoting his Panthers, "has a problem with basketball anyway. If I was just a regular citizen here and I picked up the paper, lots of times I wouldn't even know they played basketball here. You've got racing, you've got football, now you've got the Braves, they've got spring training or whatever. So I think basketball needs to get a little jack in the arm up around here in Atlanta.
"We don't draw as well as we should." (Lefty's in a groove now.) "I mean, we've got an outstanding team and we didn't have one sellout this year. Georgia Tech only has two sellouts and they've got a pretty good team. And Georgia has an excellent team, I don't think they've had but one or two sellouts. So we need to get the people around here recognizing good basketball. Not just here but at Georgia and Georgia Tech and everywhere. Course, I'm in favor of us over those two."
Driesell wouldn't be the first transplant to notice that this is a town of front-runners in every category. That's one reason Georgia State is toying with the idea of changing conferences. Driesell drops the Big East, with its hordes of fans, in conversation.
The Big East? That's hard to believe. But would you put such a coup past a coach who's had only two losing seasons in 45 years? The man who's the winningest active coach in Division I?
That change of allegiance, if it ever happens, is down the road. Driesell's immediate focus is the NCAA Tournament. He began experimenting with zone defenses in last Thursday's quarterfinal blow-out of Florida Atlantic. "I like to do something different when we get into a tournament," he said post-game. "Show 'em something new. Especially if we get into the NCAA Tournament."
Well, they're there, earning an auto-matic invitation to the NCAA Tournament with their 79-55 win over Troy State. The TAAC Championship is great, but that isn't the goal. Nor is a first-round NCAA Tournament win. "We're not afraid of anybody," Driesell says, "so I'm looking forward to the playoffs."
And remember, Lefty Driesell is a coach for whom the word "crafty" was invented.
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