| ||By Darren Rovell|
The founder of Midnight Madness will be fast asleep when the clock strikes 12 o'clock tonight.
That's because, for the first time since its inception in 1970, coach Lefty Driesell will not be conducting a practice at the first available minute of the college basketball season. Instead, Driesell and Georgia State athletics director Greg Manning decided to have the Panthers practice when the sun comes up Saturday.
But 30 years ago, Driesell didn't want to miss an opportunity to get a jump on the competition. And thus Midnight Madness, as we know it today, was created by Driesell, who was then the head coach at the University of Maryland.
"I was meeting with my staff and we were sitting and talking about practicing drills," said Driesell, who will begin the season tied with Jerry Tarkanian for the most wins among active coaches with 733. "The NCAA told us we could start practice on October 15. Well I said, 'That means we can start practicing one minute past midnight on the 14th, so let's get a jump on everybody.'"
Needless to say, that Maryland midnight practice didn't resemble the Midnight Madness scenes that will take place tonight across the country. There were no student half-court shots for tuition, slam dunk contests, or hip-hop music to introduce the Terps to thousands of screaming fans.
Getting a "jump" just meant having his players run a mile at midnight, simply so Driesell could say that he started about 15 hours before everyone else. The team then practiced at 3 p.m. Saturday, when other teams were typically meeting for the first time. The Maryland players embraced Driesell's idea.
"They said great, because we liked to think that we want to outwork everybody," Driesell said. "So we ran our mile on the football field and turned the lights on on our cars so no one could cut the corners. It first started out as a gimmick to show that we could start practice before everyone else did. Now, everyone does it."
Word made its way around the Maryland campus, and although there was no light shows or cheerleaders, a couple hundred people did show up to watch the Terps run that midnight mile.
And from that night, the madness started to build.
"The next year, we must have had 1,000 people watching us run the mile," Driesell said. "And the following year, one of my players, Mo Howard, suggested that we have an intersquad scrimmage. Well, I thought that was a pretty good idea and we had about 8,000 people watching us that year."
Ironically, Howard, who was eventually drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the 1976 NBA draft, got penalized for his good idea. Howard was injured during the scrimmage and sat out for the first few weeks of the season.
Howard's injury aside, Driesell's idea didn't go over so well with everyone.
"The only bad thing was that if October 15 was on a Wednesday, and you had the practice on midnight on Tuesday, all the teachers complained that the guys couldn't study," Driesell said. "So that's why the NCAA changed it to the first Saturday in October."
The NCAA may have had other factors to consider, but nevertheless, Driesell is happy that his idea has become a tradition of sorts for many schools throughout the country.
"I think it's great that a lot of teams started doing it. It gets people talking about basketball," Driesell said. "College kids stay up all night anyway."
When reminded that 2000 marked the 30th anniversary of his midnight run, Driesell said he won't regret missing his first Midnight Madness.
"I don't like staying up to 12 o'clock. I'm 68 now, I'm usually fast asleep by 12," Driesell said. "I'll enjoy the sleep and we'll have a better practice on Saturday anyway."
don't like staying up to 12 o'clock. I'm 68 now, I'm usually fast asleep by 12. I'll enjoy
the sleep and we'll have a better practice on Saturday anyway. ”
||— Lefty Driesell,
Georgia State head coach
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