How Flip Saunders Almost Became a Terp
How was it that Flip Saunders, a slightly undersized high school point guard from Ohio, almost became a Terp in the early '70s? I'll let Lefty Driesell explain.
"He was a heckuva player," the Terps legend said of Saunders, now the Wizards' head coach and then a would-be Maryland recruit. "If I recruited him, he was pretty good. I didn't go after any dogs. I mean, he was good. We recruited him hard."
Saunders told me that he actually attended the Terps basketball camp in the summer before his senior year, earning MVP honors, which kick-started his interest in the Terps. It didn't hurt that the program was stocked with big names, which helped move Maryland near the top of Saunders's list.
"I pretty much had it down between Maryland and Minnesota," he said. "I mean, they were good. They had Len Elmore, they had [Tom] McMillen, they had Lucas. Lefty had kind of turned it around, and he created the UCLA of the East at the time."
Saunders went on to have a fabulous senior year, averaging 32 points at Cuyahoga Heights High (just outside Cleveland) and earning Ohio Class A player of the year honors. He played point guard and shooting guard while also jumping center, and he showed certain qualities that would one day emerge on the bench.
"You could tell that he was in love with basketball, that was the best thing we liked about him," said Joe Harrington, the Maryland assistant who led the Saunders recruitment in the '70s and is now back in College Park. "He was just a great point guard. I mean, he just played hard, and he had all the skills--he could make the team around him better, he was able to score, he was a good driver, a good shooter from outside, he was a complete basketball player. But above all, he was a real leader. He loved the game."
Harrington thought they were going to land Saunders, but the point guard had some concerns about playing time with Lucas just a year in front of him. And Lucas turned out to be an ok collegiate player, all in all.
"So I made a wise decision," Saunders said with a smile. "Well, that was a good reason," Harrington agreed with a laugh.
And if Saunders had come to College Park instead of going to Minnesota? Well, who knows? He might now list Lefty as a mentor instead of Bill Musselman and Jim Dutcher. He wouldn't have met longtime colleague and current Wizards assistant Don Zierden during summer games on campus. He wouldn't have set Minnesota's all-time mark for free-throw shooting. (His 80.9 percent average now ranks second in school history, though his 85.6 mark in Big 10 play remains atop the Gophers' record book.)
And he wouldn't have been teammates with Kevin McHale, the man who gave Saunders his first NBA job, which led to 10 seasons in Minnesota. Harrington, though, said that Saunders would have been a success regardless of his college choice.
"Like they say, cream rises to the top," he said. "He just had that personality and glow about him, and people followed him....He's just one of those special guys that can lead people, and it just so happens that he loves basketball, but it could have been something else. You could see those qualities when he was just a young player....Ive never forgotten him from the time I met him as a recruit. It doesn't really surprise me that he's doing what he's doing."
Posted by: rgm34 | July 29, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: hclark1 | July 29, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Barno1 | July 29, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Barno1 | July 29, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: DanSteinberg1 | July 29, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: fushezzi | July 29, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ged0386 | July 29, 2009 4:02 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Urnesto | July 29, 2009 9:21 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: RedCherokee | July 29, 2009 11:08 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.