ATLANTA - Nearly a year after his retirement, Lefty Driesell is as feisty as ever.
The Ol’ Lefthander returned to Georgia State on Friday night, where the school dedicated its new basketball court in his honor. Driesell went 87-47 in a little over four seasons with the Panthers before stepping down Jan. 3, 2003.
During a ceremony at halftime of Georgia State’s game against South Alabama, Driesell was joined on the court by Thomas Meredith, chancellor of the University System of Georgia. He lobbied for the chancellor’s help to schedule a couple of the other big schools in the state.
“I want you to make Georgia and Georgia Tech come in here and play us,” Driesell said emphatically, much to the delight of the crowd.
Meredith simply smiled and slowly shook his head, aware that this simply was Lefty being Lefty.
Driesell, who always perceived himself as the ultimate underdog, took over a program at Georgia State that was the losingest in the country. He won 17 games apiece in his first two seasons, then led the Panthers to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2000-01.
They completed a 29-5 season with a loss to Maryland, where Driesell spent 17 years as a coach before he was forced out after the cocaine-overdose death of star player Len Bias.
Driesell remains the only coach in NCAA history to win at least 100 games at four different schools; he started his career at Davidson, then went to James Madison after leaving Maryland.
He had an overall mark of 786-394, but deferred all the praise to his former players.
“They’re the ones that deserve the credit,” he said. “All I did was holler and stomp a little bit.”
Driesell led Georgia State to a 4-6 start last season, then surprisingly turned the team over to his top assistant, Michael Perry. He stays in touch with the program by talking to Perry a few times a week, and each time Driesell speaks of the Panthers, he uses the term “we.”
“This is my school right here, Georgia State,” Driesell said.
Since his retirement, Driesell and his wife, Joyce, have lived in Virginia Beach, Va., and his trip to Atlanta for the ceremony was delayed by a stopover in Raleigh, N.C., for the funeral of former North Carolina State and Florida coach Norm Sloan.
Wearing a sport coat and turtle neck — but sans tie, which was his trademark late in his career — Driesell didn’t arrive in the arena until 90 seconds into the game. He barely had time to settle in his seat before Reo Logan scored the first basket for the Panthers.
He enjoyed what he saw the rest of the way, too. Georgia State beat the Jaguars 88-56.
“We’ve got a good team here,” Driesell said. “Michael is the perfect coach for us. He’s a great coach and a great man.”
And don’t expect Driesell to return to the bench anytime soon.
“Yeah, I miss basketball, but I don’t miss all of the other stuff, off the court,” he said. “People don’t understand that it’s a 20-hour a day job. But, yeah, I do miss coaching in the games.”
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