Saturday, March 22, 2008

Lefty thinks Davidson can beat the Hoyas

Davidson's rise reminds coach of Lefty's strong run with team in '60s
The Virginian-Pilot
March 23, 2008

Lefty Driesell's name was mentioned here in the break between first- and second-round NCAA t ournament games.

Davidson College, one of the schools where Driesell coached, is back on the national radar as it heads into this afternoon's game against No. 2 seed Georgetown. When the 10th seed toppled Gonzaga on Friday, it marked the Wildcats' first tournament victory since 1969, Driesell's last season with the school.

For a fleeting moment Saturday afternoon, Bob McKillop waxed nostalgic about an era when tiny Davidson was a prominent player on the national stage. That was before Driesell departed for Maryland and the balance of power in college basketball shifted even further to schools from heavyweight conferences.

What Driesell accomplished in the ' 60s, McKillop said, was no less than "one of the extraordinary stories in college annals."

"Well, he's probably right," Driesell said Saturday from his Virginia Beach home, laughing over the phone at the happy memories.

"Davidson's kind of always been my favorite, because it was my first college job," he added. "I was only 28 years old when I went there."

It was a different era, to say the least.

"I grew up in a time period," said the 57-year-old McKillop, in his 19th year as Wildcats head coach, "when people wanted to go to Davidson College."

People, young men and women, still clamor to attend the small, academically rigorous school - enrollment 1,700 - located just outside of Charlotte, N.C.

"Players," McKillop said. That's what he meant.

Stephen Curry is a player; the most compelling in the tournament to date. Curry is at Davidson, though, only because Virginia Tech and other schools rejected him.

Forty-five years ago, Driesell fought more or less on even terms in his recruiting battles, even though Davidson's enrollment at the time was less than 1,000 and all male. The Lefthander didn't earn his reputation as a master recruiter by accident.

"The thing that I sold was, Davidson is a great academic school," he said.

The second syllable of Lefty's last name is "sell." Could he ever. Before the 1964-65 season, Sports Illustrated picked Davidson as its No. 1 team. His final season at Davidson, his team finished No. 3 in the polls.

"See if there's ever been a school ranked as high for as many years as we were with 900 men in the school," he said. "Only men."

For Lefty, Charlie Scott was the one that got away. Scott verbally committed to Davidson before signing with North Carolina and Dean Smith. In 1969, in Driesell's final game for Davidson, it was Scott who hit the game-winning shot at the East Regional final that kept Davidson from reaching the Final Four.

That game lives on for fans who recall Driesell's catalogue of heartbreak, but no one of any age could possibly imagine Davidson and North Carolina in a recruiting battle for the same player today. It would never happen.

McKillop understands his program's limitations, but he's put together a team that, with an upset today, could create something of a national identity of its own.

With a 23-game winning streak, the longest in the nation, and Curry firing from the outside, who's to say that Davidson doesn't have a chance against bigger, stronger Georgetown?

Not Lefty.

"When you've got a guy who can shoot like that," he said, "you can beat anybody."

Davidson knows what to expect from Georgetown because McKillop scheduled the big boys this season, losing by only four points to North Carolina in Charlotte in November, and falling to UCLA and Duke.

"Bobby's done a great job of getting them playing together," said Driesell. "I'd like to see them go to the Final Four like George Mason did a couple years ago."

Davidson's success has Lefty feeling frisky.

"I might come down for the game," he said, "if I can get someone to come with me. And if I can get a ticket."

That last part should be no problem.

--Bob Molinaro

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