When he arrived in Los Angeles, in fact, Driesell was immediately obliged to straighten everybody out by insisting he never said Maryland was the " UCLA of the East" but only that his team had the "po-tential" (Lefty accents the first syllable here, as in "po' boy") to be that. This explanation was accepted at face value until minutes later when, in answer to a question about the potential of this year's team, Lefty claimed, "Aww, I don't even know what the word po-tential means." Right then the man from
The Washington Post
agreed that Lefty had the potential to be another Ron Ziegler.
Driesell also attempted to out-Wooden Wooden in his underplaying of the importance of the contest, but nobody was swallowing that either. Lefty had been waiting on this one for a long, long time.
The preparation may have started on the night last March when, after losing to Providence in the Eastern Regionals, he sat in a motel room and told McMillen, "Let's forget this. Our next game is UCLA." Maybe it began a year before that, when Maryland won the NIT and Driesell knew he had a team that could go head to head with the Bruins. Perhaps his anticipation even started two years before that when Lefty upstaged the entire 1970 NCAA finals right outside his office door in College Park by introducing to a screaming campus his prize recruits, Elmore and Jap Trimble from New York's Power Memorial High, the very school that had given Lew Alcindor to UCLA. It was finally probable that Driesell had been ready for last week's game since the 12th day of never.
Lefty watched UCLA films over and over this summer, questioned coaches about the Bruins and pored over Wooden's books and articles. Last Tuesday, as he started to leave the office at two a.m., an assistant coach told Driesell that only 100 hours remained before the UCLA game. Lefty stayed to work some more.
Moreover, the Maryland- UCLA thing was carried along by the parallel careers of McMillen and Walton, who have been far-off competitors ever since their lives were intertwined and brought to public attention on wings of song.
It has been, as McMillen says, a "nebulous rivalry," but a rivalry nonetheless, and it started when the two were precocious basketball lads and high school honor students at Mansfield, Pa. and La Mesa, Calif. The best big men in the East and West, back then. Compared and commented on; who was the best? One to Maryland. The other to UCLA. Naturally, fabulous freshmen.
In the years since, while Walton has come to rule the sport, all McMillen has done is become an All-America on one of the better teams in the land, win an Olympic team berth and an NIT MVP trophy and, off the court, become a Rhodes scholar applicant and a participant in so many government-related activities his teammates call him "the Senator."
To his basketball public it has not been enough and last week the Maryland student newspaper, The Diamondback, acknowledged the general feeling by writing in an otherwise sympathetic story that "many people here feel Tom McMillen has cheated them. They expected him to dominate the college game and he hasn't."
It is obvious that while McMillen judges his play as harshly as anyone, he is resentful of the expectations of others as well as the comparisons with Walton. "I didn't write all the publicity," he said the day before their big meeting. "This game isn't a personal crusade. I've never met Walton and it's obvious he's too team-oriented to care about individual duels. Besides, he won't even guard me; he'll be on Elmore. We've seen enough film to know how great he is. But I know what I can do, too. I'm just glad we're playing now when we're seniors. We wouldn't have been so sure of ourselves as sophomores."
Tiny swirls of controversy preceded the game much of the week. There was a prank rumor circulated around Washington and Baltimore that McMillen had broken his leg. Word filtered through Los Angeles that UCLA was out to get the Terrapins and Wooden would pour it on if he could. Driesell did his part. He said that originally the game was supposed to be the home opener for both teams but that UCLA had "slipped in" Arkansas on the schedule for the night before. J. D. Morgan, the UCLA athletic director, said Arkansas had been scheduled before Maryland. The only solution was to subpoena the tapes.