Turtle figurines, about 30 of them in a variety of sizes, are scattered about the office of Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell. There are 10 black ones on his desk alone, gifts that Red Auerbach brought from China, where they were used as weights on opium scales.
Driesell likes his collection of mock turtles, but not as much as he treasures the 12 Terrapins back from last year's 20-10 team. During the regular season they beat NCAA champ N.C. State twice and UCLA, North Carolina and Notre Dame once each. Driesell has added two talented baby turtles, freshmen Guard Keith (Smooth) Gatlin and Forward Terry Long.
The oldest Terp, Lefty, is back, too, of course, even though two Maryland newspapers called for his resignation last March after he phoned a student to encourage her to drop sexual misconduct charges against Forward Herman Veal. The school placed Veal on probation, and the chancellor reprimanded Driesell.
Though Driesell has averaged 20 victories a season in his 14 years at Maryland, the four ACC championship banners that hang in Cole Field House all belong to the Terps' women's team. And the sad fact is that Lefty has seen can't-miss teams come up short before. It happened just three years ago when he welcomed back another entire team. "When Albert King was a junior we won the ACC in the regular season," he says. "The next year that entire team returned, and finished fourth. I've reminded our guys of that." Still, the players' expectations run high. "We have a slogan this year," says senior Guard Steve Rivers, " 'Final Four in '84.' "
Lefty will buy that. "I like expectations," he says. "It bothers me when we're not in the preseason Top 10, because then maybe people think we're not that good."
To make sure everyone knew that Maryland has its share of thoroughbreds, most notable among them Swingman Adrian Branch (above) and Center Ben Coleman, the team picture was going to include real horses. It was canceled when someone said nay.
The Terps started slowly last season, and any equanimity they had attained by late in the season was shattered by Veal's troubles. Maryland lost three of the four games it had to play without Veal, its best defensive player. This season he seems unaffected by the turmoil, say teammates. Veal, on the other hand, says nothing to the public, having made a vow of silence.
The Terps' strength, literally, is Coleman, the 6'9", 220-pound post man who can bench 315 pounds and is probably the most powerful center in the ACC. Coleman transferred to Maryland from Minnesota, where he was stuck behind Randy Breuer, the Milwaukee Bucks' No. 1 draft pick this year. Driesell calls Coleman "a banger and a knocker." Teammates call him Big Ben. Branch says, "Sometimes I just get caught up in watching him being so graceful and so talented doing his thing." Last season Coleman's thing included finishing second in the conference in shooting percentage (57.1), fourth in rebounds (8.1 a game) and ninth in scoring (15.1 points a game).
Branch, unlike Coleman, will not overpower anyone, though he has finally become more Branch than sprig. "When he came here he had a hard time doing 10 pushups," Coleman says. "Now he can do 50." Branch also pumps iron in addition to putting the ball through it: He averaged 18.7 points per game last year, fourth best in the ACC.
Junior Jeff Adkins may be challenged at guard by the most breathtaking Maryland passer this side of Boomer Esiason. The North Carolina Player of the Year last season at Conley High in Greenville, Gatlin received several calls from North Carolina Gov. James Hunt, who encouraged him to attend one of the state's four ACC schools. Gatlin decided to pass there, also.
With an added year of experience and the addition of Gatlin, who specializes in the no-look pass, Maryland's up-tempo offense will run more smoothly this year. Defensively, Driesell says he will also use a lot of "oddball" stuff such as the box-and-one, triangle-and-two and other man-zone combinations. But for the most part the Terps will look reassuringly similar to last year's team.
Finding playing time for all his charges could be a problem for Driesell. The coach can only hope Rivers is right when he says, "There is no 'I' in team." If so, Maryland will be a team to keep an eye on.