Posts Tagged ‘Terps’

Embracing the Len Bias Legacy Challenge

March 10, 2014
challenge_coin_front

A University of Maryland Challenge Coin

I anticipated that some dynamic moments might occur when NCAA president Dr. Mark Emmert spoke last week about the state of college athletics at the University of Maryland’s Riggs Alumni Center in College Park. The Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce organized a breakfast and town-hall type gathering, highlighted by Dr. Emmert’s speech. Among those in attendance was Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson, who joined other athletic officials and those tied to the local business and educational communities. Anderson provided some early sparks.

As a member of a chamber committee that hosted the event, I volunteered to help manage the media. I also brought along copies of my latest book, Born Ready: The Mixed Legacy of Len Bias, hoping to promote it on site. I was wary, though, about how Maryland athletic officials might react it to its presence. Since the book was released in December 2011, the department has unsurprisingly greeted the book with a consistent chill. They’ve blocked any attempt to promote it at a department-related event. The death of Bias, after all, is not considered one of the more fond moments in the school’s rich athletic history.

When I saw Anderson near the check-in area, I reached out my hand and introduced myself, saying I was a former Terps athlete and author of the book on Bias. I sent Anderson a copy of the book soon after its release but heard nothing in response, and I wondered if he had read it. I expected a standard response, with little more than a “nice to meet you.”

Surprise number one. “Ah, I read that book,” he said engagingly. When an author hears those words, the next thing they hope to hear is something similar to, ‘greatest book I ever read’, or “I’d like to buy one for every Maryland student athlete, their parents, and their siblings.” To my disappointment, neither happened. To my pleasant surprise, however, Anderson said something with conviction that stunned me. “We’ve got to get Len Bias in the Hall of Fame.”

Maryland’s Athletic Hall of Fame committee has so far shunned Bias. I’ve been told Maryland’s reluctance is due to a few members on the committee who refuse to forget the trauma Bias’ death caused the university. I have written repeatedly about my support of his Hall of Fame bid.

“I agree with you,” I replied to Anderson, and then offered assistance to help make it happen. Anderson pulled something out of his pocket and handed it to me saying, “take this.” No explanation or reason followed. I thanked him, not knowing what it was. In the midst of a brief crush to register members of the media, I was unable to engage Anderson further, and placed the object in a pocket.

challenge_coin_backI soon noticed that one side of the coin–about two inches in diameter and heavy enough to function as a paperweight–featured Testudo, the Terps mascot, posed strongly and proudly and capped by the words “Go Terps”. On the other side of the coin, the following words circled a large letter M: “Presented by the Athletic Director. For Excellence.”

Later, I approached Anderson and asked him about the coin’s significance. I expected an inspirational, serious response. Rather, he tossed me a humorous aside. “It’s a challenge coin,” he said. “If I see you somewhere and you don’t have it with you, that means you have to buy all the drinks.” A weak smile tweaked his lips, and I chuckled, still unsure of the coin’s meaning.

“We did this at Army,” added Anderson, who was athletic director at the U.S. Military Academy before taking the Maryland job in 2010.

Challenge coins symbolize support of an organization represented on the coin. They also promote unity, boost morale and command respect within that group. They are also used to recognize a special achievement. Showing it to someone can also initiate a challenge. Military groups started using the coins around the time of World War II.

I was never able to ask Anderson that day why he gave me the coin. This allowed me to theorize about his motive. Perhaps he wanted to develop a bond with a former Terps athlete and promote a sense of unity. Or perhaps it represents how he felt about the book. Maybe it reflected our shared interest in helping Bias earn his just due at a Maryland Athletics Hall of Fame member.

The next day I reached out to Anderson’s office, asking for clarification on his intent for giving me the coin. An assistant told me Anderson rarely distributes the coin. He’s handed them to athletes on senior night and to other athletes who have shown excellence as well as to military veterans at halftime of football games. In an email from the assistant, Anderson said he gave me the coin “…for the work you are doing for Len Bias.”

I own few remaining symbols of my days as a Terps athlete. I lost my varsity letter jacket decades ago. Medals won at track meets are stored unceremoniously in a box. A rarely used, but highly cherished, varsity letter sweater hangs in a closet. A couple of track and field pictures are displayed on a wall in my office.

Receiving the challenge coin revived a faded sense of pride in being a University of Maryland athlete. Receiving it from the school’s current athletic director only enhances the feeling. And If Anderson is challenging me to properly recognize the mixed legacy of Bias, consider it a challenge eagerly embraced.

50 for 50 – Len Bias’ Golden Moments #48…Brian Waller

November 16, 2013

Through Nov. 18, Len Bias’ 50th birthday, the Born Ready Blog will provide each day a new item that helped define Len’s legacy, 50 in total.

A Best Friend Sadly Remembers

Brian Waller grew up with Len Bias in Columbia Park and to two were teammates on the Northwestern High School basketball team. Waller, a year older than Bias, had talked with Bias on Sunday and again on Monday, the day before the draft. Bias hadn’t said he would stop by that night, but Waller and Walker still held out hope that he would surprise them. They were so excited about Bias being selected by the Celtics that they cut their game short and talked most of the night about his good fortune. “We were just hanging out talking and waiting for him to walk through the door,” says Waller. “Every time the door opened, we looked to see who was gonna walk through, thinking and hoping it was him.” Bias’s buoyant presence never materialized. Waller was left to wonder: Could he have saved his best friend’s life if only Bias had walked through those doors at The Rec that night? “I can remember, long after he passed away, I would come home from work, I would sit in the basement in the dark, for a couple of months,” he says. “No TV, no radio. If I was there, he’d still be here.” Waller says Bias never used cocaine around him.

Waller’s eyes widened and filled with tears when he talked about Bias. “It was probably more sadness, not really guilt,” he says, staring into space. “Man, if I was there, I could have done something. I don’t think he would have been comfortable …” Waller pauses and takes a deep breath, “doing any kind of drugs around me. I would have been, ‘What are you doing?’ I would have been totally against it. He probably wouldn’t have brought that foolishness around me.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)Find out about the Born Ready Hoops Festival  Nov. 22-24, that will honor Len’s legacy as a basketball player.

50 for 50 – Len Bias’ Golden Moments #44…High School Coach Bob Wagner

November 12, 2013

Through Nov. 18, Len Bias’ 50th birthday, the Born Ready Blog will provide each day a new item that helped define Len’s legacy, 50 in total.

Part of him died when Len died.

For a year and a half after Len Bias died, Bob Wagner fought a deep depression. He stopped coaching and teaching and returned to school, taking computer-technician classes. In the evenings, he worked as a night manager at College Park Towers, an apartment complex that catered to students who attended his alma mater, the University of Maryland. “That’s where I disappeared,” says Wagner, Bias’s head coach at Northwestern High School. When not at work or in school, Wagner retreated to his house in Hyattsville as much as possible. “I wanted to get away from [high-school] kids,” he says. “I didn’t want anything to do with basketball. I didn’t answer the phone. I didn’t have much of a life at all. I was sleeping, studying and working. … There wasn’t anything I could do.”

Wagner says he still thinks about Bias every day. Sometimes, he cries. After Bias died, he endured typical stages that accompany a loss. “Depression. I questioned myself, what did I not see, what really transpired,” he says. “Not knowing any of that side of him partying. In those days, I was the big brother to all the kids. We had a unifying spirit around basketball. It gave us a positive identity within the community. That’s what hurt a lot of people with the tragedy. Here was a P.G. County public-school kid who did just as much if not more than a kid that might have gone to DeMatha or St. John’s or some other top D.C.-area program. He wasn’t given anything along the way. He had to work for what he got. It hurt the whole community. He was part of us. Most of us were part of him. So when he died, part of us died with him. The pain of his loss and the death of hope. He represented hope for a lot of kids.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)Find out about the Born Ready Hoops Festival  Nov. 22-24, that will honor Len’s legacy as a basketball player.

50 for 50 – Len Bias’ Golden Moments #26…Dull Displaced

October 25, 2013

Through Nov. 18, Len Bias’ 50th birthday, the Born Ready Blog will provide each day a new item that helped define Len’s legacy, 50 in total.

“I don’t have regrets.”

On the morning of June 19, 1986, Maryland Athletic Director Dick Dull was home when Maryland Assistant Vice President John Bielec called to inform him of Bias’s death. Dull immediately called Jeff Hathaway, an assistant athletic director, to go to Leland Memorial Hospital in nearby Riverdale and confirm the news. The tragedy turned Dull’s world upside down. “I was in shell shock for about six weeks,” he says. “You go from being the fair-haired boy to people calling for you to leave. It was difficult for me to handle. It was unlike anything I had ever seen.”

Dull says he felt as if he were one of the main characters in what he called “a Greek tragedy” in which there were no winners. “I can remember walking out of my office to go to the bathroom, and someone would be following me down the hallway. It was like that every day.”

When Dull publicly stated that head basketball coach Lefty Driesell should keep his job despite the fact that he was part of a grand jury investigation, he sensed his own job was in jeopardy. It was a move that helped convince Maryland Chancellor John Slaughter that a change was needed. “Dr. Slaughter told me ‘I wish you hadn’t said that.’ He felt he had to make a decision about Driesell,” Dull says. “I painted myself in a corner because of my support for Lefty. We agreed that the situation was not going to go away unless I stepped away. I don’t have regrets.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)Find out about the Born Ready Hoops Festival  Nov. 22-24, that will honor Len’s legacy as a basketball player.

50 for 50 – Len Bias’ Golden Moments #23…Final Hours, Part 1

October 22, 2013

Through Nov. 18, Len Bias’ 50th birthday, the Born Ready Blog will provide each day a new item that helped define Len’s legacy, 50 in total.

“We’re Going to Celebrate”

Bias stayed in Boston the following day to meet with representatives of Reebok and the Boston media. The following description of how Bias’s last night evolved is based on testimony by Terry Long at the trial of Brian Tribble, according to reports, and from portions of the documentary Without Bias.

Bias returned to his dormitory suite at Washington Hall after 10:30 p.m. on June 18 with a bag full of Reebok shoes and Boston Celtic jerseys. David Gregg, a freshman basketball player, and Maryland football players Brian (Keeta) Covington and Ben Jefferson were there eating crabs. Bias wanted them to have a party, Long testified. “We’re going to celebrate,” Bias said to Gregg, Covington and Jefferson.

About 20 minutes later, Bias left the suite at about 11:30 p.m. with Madelyne Woods, a friend of Bias’s who stopped by to visit. Bias said he had to “go drain his lizard.”

“We knew what he meant,” Long said. “He said he hadn’t been with a girl in three days.” Long and Gregg walked to a nearby convenience store to buy soft drinks and went to sleep when they returned. At around 2:30 a.m., Bias, who was with Tribble, knocked on Long’s bedroom door and said “Wake the [expletive] up. We’re gonna celebrate.”

 

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)Find out about the Born Ready Hoops Festival  Nov. 22-24, that will honor Len’s legacy as a basketball player.

50 for 50 – Len Bias’ Golden Moments #20…Senior Honors

October 19, 2013

Through Nov. 18, Len Bias’ 50th birthday, the Born Ready Blog will provide each day a new item that helped define Len’s legacy, 50 in total.

Bias is 1st Team All-America, ACC POY Again

His team wasn’t playing, but Bias nonetheless suffered another setback during the ACC tournament final in 1986. When the winner of the John R. Wooden Award was announced at halftime, boos echoed through the Greensboro Coliseum. The award, honoring the top college player of the year in the nation, went to Walter Berry of St. John’s University. Bias had finished third in the voting, behind Berry and runner-up Johnny Dawkins of Duke. Three days later, however, Bias beat out Dawkins and the other top ACC players to be named ACC Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. He was also named first-team All-America along with Dawkins and became Maryland’s first consensus All-America since John Lucas in 1976.

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)Find out about the Born Ready Hoops Festival  Nov. 22-24, that will honor Len’s legacy as a basketball player.

50 for 50 – Len Bias’ Golden Moments #19…Terps Top Scorer

October 18, 2013

Through Nov. 18, Len Bias’ 50th birthday, the Born Ready Blog will provide each day a new item that helped define Len’s legacy, 50 in total.

Terps All-Time Scoring Leader

After its rocky start in 1986, Maryland won six of its last 8 regular season games to gather momentum for an NCAA tournament bid, and fitting that unpredictable seasonal narrative, Maryland clinched an NCAA bid with another win against North Carolina, this time in the first round of the ACC tournament. Compared to the previous win over North Carolina, Bias’s performance was more steady than dramatic: 20 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. Still, he reached a much-anticipated milestone and became Maryland’s all-time leading scorer with 2,072 points. Juan Dixon and Greivis Vasquez have since surpassed Bias on Maryland’s all-time scoring list.

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)Find out about the Born Ready Hoops Festival  Nov. 22-24, that will honor Len’s legacy as a basketball player.

50 for 50 – Len Bias’ Golden Moments #15…Staying Put

October 14, 2013

Through Nov. 18, Len Bias’ 50th birthday, the Born Ready Blog will provide each day a new item that helped define Len’s legacy, 50 in total.

Bias Chooses to Stay at Maryland for His Senior Year

Bias enjoyed a trio of post-season accolades in 1985: He was voted ACC Player of the Year, all-ACC and a third-team All-America, offering sweet redemption for not being named all-ACC the previous season and creating a swirl of speculation that he might enter the NBA draft the following summer. But on May 2,

Bias settled the uneasy nerves of Maryland fans and coaches by saying he would indeed stay in College Park for another year. His decision came after coach Lefty Driesell requested that his good friend Red Auerbach talk to Bias. Auerbach dined with Bias and his parents and all agreed that he would return to Maryland.

Auerbach, of course, had told Bias after the previous summer that would do everything he could to make him a Celtic, but the Celtics had the 20th pick of the 1985 draft, and certainly Auerbach must have known the chances were slim that Bias, as the ACC Player of the Year whose upside still featured plenty of positive growth potential, would still be available.

In a Boston Globe story published the day after Bias died, Auerbach detailed his dinner discussion with Bias. “I told Lefty when he set the dinner up I would tell the kid the truth, and not to expect me to tell the kid to go back to Maryland for his final year if I did not think he had anything to gain by going back as a senior. When we met, I told Len how I felt. I told them that if he came out in the draft, he would not be drafted in the top 10. I thought he would go around 15th. I told him, on the other hand, if he stayed in school for another year, he would be one of the top choices in the draft, certainly in the top seven, putting him in the lottery, and that we might have a chance to get him. He told me he would love that. He would love to play for the Celtics.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)Find out about the Born Ready Hoops Festival  Nov. 22-24, that will honor Len’s legacy as a basketball player.

50 for 50 – Len Bias’ Golden Moments #13…A Rising Junior

October 12, 2013

Through Nov. 18, Len Bias’ 50th birthday, the Born Ready Blog will provide each day a new item that helped define Len’s legacy, 50 in total.

Bias Becomes a Dominant Force During his Junior Season

During a three-game stretch in early January of his junior year that included four ACC games against teams ranked among the top 20 in the country – including No. 2 Duke and No. 5 North Carolina – Bias started to show why he would be named the top player in the ACC that season. He led Maryland in scoring in a two-point win over 17th-ranked N.C. State (17 points), a one-point loss to North Carolina (23 points), and in its next game five days later, a two-point overtime win over Duke (24 points).

Against Duke, Bias scored 16 second-half points to erase a 14-point deficit, causing Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to lament afterward how many of Bias’s shots bounced around the rim before sliding through the net. Krzyzewski thought Bias was a lucky shooter until he reviewed the game tape and realized that Len’s soft touch helped him make the shots. Two weeks after the Duke game, Bias scored 30 points in a three-point win over 14th-ranked Villanova, the eventual national champion.

In late January, he scored 24 points in a win over Old Dominion, and converted Maryland’s last two free throws in the final seconds of the Terrapins’ one point win over N.C. State in late February. At the end of the regular season, Bias led the ACC in scoring with 19 points per game on 53 percent shooting from the field and led Maryland with an average of 6.8 rebounds. In a Washington Post feature about Bias the day before Maryland was to meet Duke in the first round of the ACC tournament, Indiana Pacers personnel director Tom Newell said: “Len Bias has a chance to become one of the best players to ever play his position. I don’t mean one of the best now, I mean one of the best ever. He’s replaced Newton’s theory of gravity with Michael Jordan’s theory of gravity – which is that there is none. He just climbs up there and hangs.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)Find out about the Born Ready Hoops Festival  Nov. 22-24, that will honor Len’s legacy as a basketball player.

50 for 50 – Len Bias’ Golden Moments #12…Adding Strength

October 11, 2013

Through Nov. 18, Len Bias’ 50th birthday, the Born Ready Blog will provide each day a new item that helped define Len’s legacy, 50 in total.

A Commitment to Strength

The summer after his sophomore season, Bias started working out in the weight room with Maryland’s football players. He spent a lot of time following the lead of Maryland tight end Ferrell Edmunds, a rising sophomore who later played seven seasons in the NFL and made two Pro Bowl teams. Edmunds remembers that college basketball players back then mostly avoided strength training, instead opting for extra work on a treadmill or an exercise bicycle. Bias preferred the strength work, at times performing high repetitions of the bench press with 225 pounds. “He would do a lot of reps, not a lot of weight, for endurance,” says Edmunds. “It was foreign then to see a basketball player working out with the football players.He would challenge us. If you did 15 reps, and he thought he could do it, he’d try and beat you. He loved competition. He was challenged by everybody.”

Frank Costello was Maryland’s strength and conditioning coach at the time. “He had it all,” says Costello. “He was off the charts in everything. He was fast, he was agile, his vertical jump was on another level – definitely over 40 inches. When we did agility work, he made everything look so easy. He was a perfect guy to train. He tried hard. He didn’t miss workouts. He was always on time and did everything he was asked to do. You remember these things. Some guys are like pulling teeth to work out. Not Len. He was a pleasure to work with.”

Bias_cover_pngExcerpted from the book, Born Ready: the Mixed Legacy of Len Bias

Learn about the Born Ready Project that teaches life skills, using Len’s legacy as a teaching tool.

BornReadyLogo_Finalv2b (1)Find out about the Born Ready Hoops Festival  Nov. 22-24, that will honor Len’s legacy as a basketball player.