Monday, December 25, 2006

"Starbury" Feature for Sports Business Journal

Marbury’s new shoe rewrites the rules

Published December 25, 2006 : Page 03

One of the feel-good stories of the year, about how a high-performance basketball shoe backed by Stephon Marbury arrived on the shelves of discounter Steve & Barry’s stores for $14.98, started in the mind of the Knicks point guard but took its first steps to reality at a lunch meeting with modest intentions.

Stephon Marbury’s dream became a reality in August.

It was a spring day in 2005 when sports marketers Jordan Bazant and Peter Raskin, partners of The Agency Sports Management in New York, met with Howard Schacter, a former colleague from their days at SFX Sports who now is chief partnership officer for Steve & Barry’s.

There was no agenda, no specific deal to work out as they sat down at Pershing Square, a casual spot across from Grand Central Station.

Since The Agency had recently signed Marbury for his off-the-court initiatives, the group got to talking about how they might work together. Marbury’s shoe and apparel contract with And 1 had ended, and the Coney Island playground legend turned NBA all-star was looking for something new and different.

Having already made tens of millions of dollars playing ball, Marbury told his new reps that he wanted ownership in a brand that would make shoes and gear that were both cool to wear and affordable for any family’s budget. As the sixth in a family of seven kids, Marbury grew up wanting things his family often couldn’t afford. When he talked to Bazant, he talked in terms of a commitment to a “movement,” not the next big check from a sneaker company.

“He told me he wanted to change the world,” Bazant said.

Hitting the market

Bazant and Marbury had already shopped the concept to a few potential partners — licensees and holding companies — but they hadn’t found the right fit.

At lunch, with Marbury’s vision on his mind, Bazant listened to Schacter explain how Steve & Barry’s key challenge was evolving from a college T-shirt store into a serious retailer with the depth to appeal to a mass market. The company had made its name with low prices — at the time, nothing in the store sold for more than $10 — but it needed a better image.

Bazant started to think. “What if…?” Raskin was on the same page. As the conversation evolved, Bazant recalled, “Peter and I were just winking at each other thinking, ‘This is the company.’”

By the end of the lunch, Bazant introduced the concept of working with Marbury. Schacter took it back to his office and handed off to Aaron Spiewak, then the company’s licensing director. In the ensuing months, Spiewak developed a relationship with The Agency, working on several deals while brainstorming about how to make something work with Marbury.

In a series of follow-up meetings, The Agency stressed the unique opportunity of working with a point guard in the prime of his career who also was from New York, had “street cred” and believed personally in the “low cost, high quality” mission of the company.

“Above all point guards, Steph resonates with people who have the game close to their hearts,” said Spiewak, who left Steve & Barry’s for a licensing job with ESPN in August 2006. “For a New York company, there is no better person than Stephon Marbury.”

“Plus,” he added, “big men don’t sell shoes.”

Spiewak and The Agency put together the basic structure of the deal and won the support and enthusiasm of Marbury and Steve & Barry’s President Andy Todd. To get everything rolling, they called a dinner meeting at Mr. Chow’s in midtown Manhattan in late summer 2005.

At the table were Bazant and Raskin, along with Marbury and his wife, Steve Shore (the Steve of Steve & Barry’s), Todd, Spiewak, and a few others.

Marbury and Steve & Barry’s President
Andy Todd at a tour stop in Minnesota.

During the meal, Todd told Marbury what Steve & Barry’s was all about, at one point using the words, “change the world.” Marbury stopped him midsentence.

“He said, ‘That’s it, that’s what we’re going to do. We are going to change the world,’” Todd said. “We saw what a genuine person he was. It was so personal to him that it made sense.”

“Steph told us he wanted to do the deal before appetizers were served,” recalled Spiewak.

Said Marbury, “I basically said if they can make affordable things for people to have and it’s the same quality, I’m all down for it because that gives everyone an opportunity and that’s what the movement is about.”

Creating the buzz

Not long after, a contract was signed, one that pays Marbury based on sales, not a flat endorsement fee. According to Todd, the Steve & Barry’s team went to work before the ink hit paper, contracting New Hampshire-based design firm Rocket Fish to create what would become Starbury One, a product that derives its name from Marbury’s longtime nickname.

To drive momentum, the team members gave themselves a series of tight deadlines. They wanted a shoe out before the 2006-07 NBA season. Along the way, the core team met at Marbury’s Westchester, N.Y., home, sitting around a big couch where the NBA star provided input on everything from design to fit to marketing.

As the shoe’s design and development evolved, Bazant said he and Marbury often kidded each other that there was no way the concept could really happen: a sleek, high-performance shoe that looked good enough and performed well enough for the starting point guard of the New York Knicks to wear it in games but that could be sold at a profit for less than $15. But it was beginning to take shape.

When they were presented with the final design of the shoe, “We went nuts,” Bazant said, “They really did it.”

Less than a year after the dinner meeting at Mr. Chow’s, the public and the media went nuts, too. The press release hit on Aug. 16, 2006, with a headline that read: “Entire Line of High Quality Clothing and Footwear Will Enable Kids and Parents to Purchase NBA-Quality Sneakers for Under $15 and Create Entire Wardrobes for Under $100.”

A launch party in New York brought the buzz to a fevered pitch.

The story first hit with an interview on “Live with Regis and Kelly.” It then appeared on “Good Morning America.” The Associated Press, USA Today and others seemed to follow in lockstep, gushing over the price point and Marbury’s involvement.

Product display at a Steve & Barry’s store

Steve & Barry’s brought in other partners to assist in the launch. The Mastermind Group, a marketing firm that The Agency recommended, led by former Jordan Brand director Erin Patton, coordinated advertising, public relations, online and other marketing services.

But it was Marbury who had the other key idea that fueled the successful launch. He came up with the idea for a road show: a 17-day, 40-stop tour that took Marbury and his new line to malls and basketball courts in the key Steve & Barry’s markets and stores around the country.

“I just thought, ‘It would be crazy if we went on tour,’” he said. “When I saw how people were reacting, I just wanted to go grassroots and let people see the product and touch the product.”

In September, in city after city, town after town, mall after mall, people lined up in the hundreds to buy the $14.98 shoes, to thank the player who brought them to life and to heap “much love,” as Marbury would say it, onto what he calls “the movement.” TV cameras and reporters followed, as if on cue, bringing reams of positive PR to the marketplace.

Said Todd, “Being on tour so crystallized what a fantastic thing we were doing. Parents were hugging us and saying they can afford $10 for a jersey and $15 for shoes. It was already great; the tour made it legendary.”

Marbury also used the tour to train every day with the shoes on, playing against local high school teams and preparing for training camp.

He bristles at any discussion that the Starbury shoe line is a PR move to improve his image. He had a very public flap with former Knicks coach Larry Brown last season, and the Knicks are mired in more misery this season.

“When I did this project, the thing that upset me is people saying I did it for my image,” he said. “I know what I do. I help people. I take care of people and put them in situations where they can prosper. This isn’t about me. This is about everybody else.”

‘Best experience of my life’

The Starbury line includes more than shoes. It started with 50 items and plans to increase to 200. Steve & Barry’s is expanding as well, now up to 195 stores from just 60 when the company struck its deal with Marbury in 2005.

Because Steve & Barry’s is privately held, the company would not disclose sales figures. What Todd would say is, “[Sales] have been through the roof. We get them in, they go right out. Last week [in early December] was the first time where we might have enough shoes in stock.”

The launch shows no signs of slowing, either. Earlier this month, the Starbury One was named shoe “launch of the year” by Footwear News.

“It was really about providing a great product at a good value,” Bazant said. “We think that this ‘movement’ rings true with most people.”

It’s unclear what response, if any, could be forthcoming in the marketplace from competing shoe companies to the buzz generated by the Starbury One. Todd, though, feels the product could have a lasting impact on the business.

“The way people shop for NBA-endorsed products is going to change, and I think we are changing it,” he said. “It’s the movement: People are voting with their pocket books. The time has come for us not to pay $200 for sneakers. They don’t cost that much to make.”

He also credited Marbury for the role he played in the process.

“With Stephon, it’s about the kids,” he said. “I’ve done hundreds of interviews, and every time I say, ‘It’s about the kids,’ people go, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ But with Stephon, I am telling you, it was and is about the kids.”

Marbury said this is no short-term deal for him.

“You can ask me anything. There is not a move that’s made without me involved,” he said. “I am 100 percent into this, 100 percent involved, and it’s something that I’m committed to for the rest of my life.”

Of the tour, Marbury added, “That was the best experience of my life. When you see someone crying and laughing at the same time, you don’t even know how to feel.”

Greg Abel is a writer in Baltimore and can be reached at

Friday, November 10, 2006

Terps Nation #1 for 2006-2007 Season

Greetings Terrapin Nation and welcome to the first installment of the 2006-2007 season.

Before I get to breaking it down and babbling at full throttle, I have a few administrative announcements to make.

Ravens Game Watch Party for a Good Cause

First, I would like to invite everyone on this list to a Ravens game watch party this Sunday, November 12th at Shuckers Bar in Fell’s Point.

What: This is a charity event to benefit the Derek Meizlesh Foundation and the Greenebaum Cancer Center at the University of Maryland.

Where: Click HERE for a map and info

When: Sunday, 11/12, 12 noon – 5 p.m.

How much: It’s easy on the wallet people. $40 for one person, $75 for two.

Why: Good times, great cause and because you’re going to watch football anyway, why not do it with friends in Fells?

You get lots of food and at least two drinks, big screens for the game. Shuckers is a great place, nice and open, lots of room to hang out. If you plan to come, please do me a quick favor a reply with a headcount so the official organizers know how many to expect.

Here’s a sample for how you might choose to reply if you are one of those people who is soooooo busy.

Click “reply”

Type: “in”


“in +1”

Click “send”

Note – you don’t have to use the quotation marks.

Time required – 2-3 seconds*

Fun to be had – lots

*your speed may vary depending on factors including, but not limited to, need to inform/request permission from your significant other, availability on Sunday afternoon, level of ‘cool factor’ still left in your old, weary bones.

Random aside

I went to CVS this morning to buy some glass cleaner. I walked up to the register and a woman rang me up. She was about 60 and skinny, kind of hunched over and grand-motherly looking with a hair net and skinny glasses resting on the brim of her nose.

She said “3.35.” I gave her a Five, a quarter and a dime. She put the quarter and the dime down, put the five in the register, and gave me back a dollar and 65 cents. I said, “Oh. I gave you $5.35 so I could get two dollars back.” Then I pointed to the quarter and the dime on the counter.

She looked at me, looked at the coins, while still holding my change in her hands… then she picked up my coins, put them together with the 65 cents in her hand, and handed it all to me and said, “oh, ok, here honey, here’s $1 and another dollar in change… Two dollars.” She wasn’t being mean or sarcastic, she was just trying to give me two dollars like I asked. OK then.

Burying the lead

A few of you on this list already know this, but many do not, and I am here to make an announcement… I got a paying gig this year to be a Terps commentator on the radio… after a campaign that bordered on harassment and what I can only suspect is a combination of apathy and submission on the part of the station manager, I have been hired to be YOUR host of Maryland basketball pre and post game coverage on THE Terrapin Sports Radio Network.

Now, there’s a lot I can say right now about how it came about and how it’s going so far after 2 preseason games (luckily and sketchy), but I am excited about the opportunity and tonight -- in case your mind was too focused on elections, Ravens, Redskins, and your own personal life and career -- is the first regular season Maryland basketball game. Terps play Hampton at 8:30 in the second half of the coaches vs. cancer classic. If Maryland wins tonight and tomorrow against the winner of the Vermont/New Orleans game, then they’ll go to NY next week for the semifinals and finals.

About my show… I’m the guy who does a half hour of pre game starting one hour before tip. I then hand off to Johnny Holiday and Chris Knoche, who do the final half hour of pregame and, of course, the actual broadcast. Unfortunately, my portion isn’t on in DC, but it is carried on 1300 AM and 105.7 FM in Baltimore and I think the FM signal travels pretty nicely down to DC.

So… if you have a moment and are so inclined, check it out. Tonight, my good friend and NBA player representative Doug Neustadt will join me to talk about former Terps in the pros (Doug represents Sarunas, Drew Nicholas, and others) (OK, the “others” are Mike Mardesich, somewhat MIA, and Terrence Morris, currently looking for work).

Weekly column in PressBox

My other media gig for the season is writing a weekly college hoops column, focusing mainly on the Terps in the new PressBox newspaper in Baltimore

My first column debuts this week, where I quickly break down the Terps and throw a bone of coverage/thoughts to the other programs in the Baltimore area. I can’t be as irreverent as I am on these Terp Nation emails, but I am trying to still keep it loose and entertaining.

Because there are only so many hours in the day and I do have an actual job, I am just going to paste my first column that will run in PressBox this week below so that everyone on this list can read it first. That’s right people, you are getting exclusive content.

Very Quick Thoughts on the Terps

I am going to keep this quick because I basically wrote what I wanted to say in the column below but not as explicitly as I’ll say it here… I am not sure if Maryland will be any good or better than they have been for the past three years this year. Pretty dramatic statement right? I mean, if Ibekwe, Jones, Gist, and Strawberry haven’t taken Maryland to where we expect Maryland to be for the past 2 seasons, I am not sure why we should think this year will be a lot different.

That said, at least there’s some exciting new blood in the program. Best player is likely Greivis Vasquez. Whose name, I actually just confirmed with the basketball SID, is officially pronounced GRAY-vis. Here’s the actual exchange (more exclusive content people);

OK, on to this week’s column, here it is, enjoy:


Terps Hoping New Faces Mean Return to Winning Ways in College Park

By Greg Abel

Don’t look now, but while we’ve been watching the Ravens run out to a 6-2 record, and the Terps football team summon the early Fridge years, college basketball season crept up and joined the party.

Yup, college hoops tips off in earnest this week in College Park, with Maryland playing host to the first and second rounds of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. The calendar says Election Day, November 7th, and Maryland is playing a real game, the earliest start to a season ever.

With a fresh start, you can be sure that Gary Williams’ Terps hope to reestablish themselves in the ACC and nationally as an elite program.

In the three seasons following the departure of every meaningful player from the 2002 national championship team, Maryland has gone 19-11 (7-9), 16-12 (7-9), and 19-12 (8-8). That might pass for reasonable at Clemson, but not at Maryland, where Williams spent a long, long time squeezing every last drop of effort and potential out of his players while building the program from bad, to better, to good, to great.

Eleven straight NCAA tournament appearances came to an end following the 2004-2005 season, and if not for an out of body ACC tournament by then sophomore John Gilchrist, Maryland would be working on a three-season drought from the Big Dance.

So, what’s in store for this year’s Terps? Most importantly, some new faces and new energy. Not that Nik Caner-Medley didn’t have some great moments (he was the class of his class), or that Travis Garrison didn’t want to win (he certainly wanted to shoot… from outside anyway), but when the curtain fell on the 2005-2006 season, the Terps were last seen losing at home to Manhattan in the NIT. Not good. Chris McCray had already been lost to grades and John Gilchrist had long since said “Shalom” to the program, having taken his game to the pro leagues in Israel.

Now it’s time for the core foursome of D.J Strawberry, Mike Jones, Ekene Ibekwe, and James Gist to take their turn at the helm, so we’ll see what they can do as leaders.

They will have help. Maryland has five newcomers, led by freshman point guard Eric Hayes and freshman guard/forward Greivis Vasquez. Both can and will play the point, with Hayes getting the early nod as starter. But Vasquez, a native of Venezuela, will get as many minutes as anyone and will rotate from point to shooting guard, to small forward.

At 6-5, rangy and talented, Vasquez is fun to watch -- the kind of player who demands attention, because he is highly skilled and charismatic. Hayes is all business, a steady coach’s son of a point guard from Potomac, Va. Hayes will remind fans of Steve Blake in composure and build, though he might have a tad more muscle than Blake did when he arrived to College Park.

Regardless, the duo gives Gary exactly what he lacked last year – depth at the point, where Strawberry struggled through an awkward season handling the ball and nursing a few injuries. Now healthy and back at his natural role on the wing, look for Strawberry to have a solid senior season. You can definitely say this about D.J. -- no one plays harder or cares more.

The other newcomers are 6-7 swingman Landon Milburne, a left-hander who will get minutes out on the wing and can do a bit of everything; Bambale Osby, a chiseled 6-8, 250-pound transfer from Paris (TX) Junior College who carries a delightful afro and gives the Terps some much-needed bulk; and freshman Jerome Burney, a 6-9 shot blocking specialist, currently nursing a left foot injury and expected to get back on the court shortly.

As for the returning players, it’s time to get it done already, right? We have seen flashes from Ibekwe, Jones, and Gist, but none of Maryland’s upper classmen have ever demonstrated the consistency of a true, big-time player, capable of throwing a team on his back.

Here’s hoping this is the year Maryland turns things around.

Looking Around the Region
In other area hoops news, it will be interesting to see if any genuine rivalries emerge now that the Baltimore area has three well-known coaches patrolling the sidelines in Pat Kennedy at Towson, Jimmy Patsos at Loyola, and Todd Bozeman attempting to resurrect his once promising career at Morgan State.

Or, forget rivalries, it would be fantastic for Baltimore hoops if just one of those programs – and you can add UMBC and Navy to the list – would jump out and establish themselves as something other than a middle or bottom-of-the-pack finisher in their respective conference.

At Towson, it’s about time for Kennedy to show that his best basketball days aren’t behind him by having his Tigers inject a little magic into the Towson Center. Kennedy can be excused for an awful first year two years ago – 5-24 with someone else’s players – but now he’s had two seasons to recruit and turn things around with his own guys.
The Tigers improved to 12-16 last year, and there's cause for optimism this year.

The Tigers boast the region’s best NBA prospect in shooting guard Gary Neal, a 6-4 transfer from LaSalle who is the NCAA’s leading returning scorer after putting up 26.1 points per game last season. Any true hoops fan in the area should make their way to Towson this year to see Neal and to take in a few games in the highly competitive and entertaining Colonial Athletic Association.

After all, from the CAA came the best story last season in the form of the George Mason Patriots and their pied-piper coach, Jim Larranaga. The Patriots, you may recall, defeated (ahem) North Carolina, Michigan State, Wichita State, and (hey now!) UConn to reach the Final Four. Interestingly enough, Mason features two Mount St. Joseph products in junior forward Will Thomas, a left-handed, 6-7 baby hook artist, and 6-6 freshman Louis Birdsong.

The Patriots come to Towson on January 11th, now that’s worth circling on the calendar.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Remembering Len Bias - article and interviews for Baltimore Pressbox

NOTE - these articles originally appeared in the June 19, 2006 edition of Baltimore PressBox magazine,

Remembering Len Bias

To remind myself what Len Bias looked like and played like to write this article, I went to College Park last week and visited the archives. At the suggestion of ESPN's Scott Van Pelt, a Maryland grad and as good an unofficial historian of all things Terps basketball-related as you can find, I watched the 1984 ACC Championship game. During that game, Bias destroyed Duke with 26 points on 12-of-17 shooting. It was incredible to watch.

Bias, then just a sophomore and becoming more versatile and confident by the game, scored on an array of baseline jumpers, monster dunks, and turn-around jumpers that made him all but impossible to defend. He jumped incredibly high and straight up on his jumper with perfect form.

For me, two moments stood out in particular. The first came at the start of the second half. Guard Jeff Adkins threw an alley-oop to Bias but the pass was way too short and looked destined to be intercepted. Bias leaped in the air from the baseline and, reaching back, swiped the ball with his left hand toward the rim and away from Dan Meagher, the Duke defender. Bias then gathered the ball off the rim, took one dribble and slammed it home on the other side.

The second moment happened with just 21 seconds left in the game and Maryland up 71-60. Duke called a timeout but the game was over, Maryland had finally done it. The pep band, as it did in those days, broke out into "Amen," the gospel sing-along and theme song for Maryland wins.

After a series of hugs and high fives, Lenny took a step back from the mob around the bench and clapped his hands high above his head and mouthed the words, "A-MEN… A-MEN … A-MEN…. A-MEN, A-MEN!"

Before it was time to go back on the court to finish things off, Lenny stood behind the huddle and stretched out those long, rippled arms out to his sides.

Then he hugged the whole team.

It Was 20 Years Ago Today

By Greg Abel

Twenty years have passed since that unbelievable, surreal and profoundly sad morning when Len Bias -- Maryland's own chiseled superhero in high tops -- died from a cocaine overdose less than 48 hours after being drafted second overall by the Boston Celtics.

For Maryland students, fans and anyone connected to the university at that time, the moment remains burned in memory never to be erased, joining a list of horrendous but significant, "you remember exactly where you were" moments like the Kennedy assassination for members of an earlier generation, or the Challenger explosion.

"I used to have to pull him out of practice he would dominate so much." - Lefty Driesell

Ask any Maryland fan. They can close their eyes and it is as vivid today as it was then.

"Greg, wake up," Eric said, shaking my shoulders. My older brother, the basketball star in the family, was kneeling next to my bed. I opened my eyes, groggy from sleep. I was 16. It was summer break. 9 a.m. was early.

I can still remember that look on his face; it was a look I had not seen before.

"Len Bias is dead," he said.

Eric may as well have said that Mom and Dad packed up and moved to the moon.

The previous summer at basketball camp, I watched Len and his younger brother Jay put on a dunking exhibition that left the campers speechless and in complete awe. I will never forget it.

Just two days earlier, Len put on that green Celtics cap and flashed that brilliant smile.

"What? What are you talking about? That can't be true," I said.

I just wanted to go back to sleep, but he persisted.

"It's on the radio. Len Bias is dead."

We turned on what was then B104 and I can remember the DJ playing "Missing You" by Diana Ross as a dedication to Lenny. For some reason that made it real to me. To this day I can't think of anything but Len Bias when I hear that song.

We're missing him still.

Much has changed in two decades, of course. Len Bias is no longer the all-time leading scorer in Maryland history; that honor belongs to Juan Dixon. Lefty Driesell is no longer the face of Maryland basketball; that distinction belongs to Gary Williams. Those facts, along with the 2002 National Championship and subsequent move to the Comcast Center have dimmed the extent to which Bias and his legacy define Maryland basketball.

But when we look up during a Maryland home game and see number 34 hanging in the rafters, we remember him like it was yesterday. We remember Len Bias as a person and as a player, and we remember how his game and sudden death affected all of us.

From players to coaches, from fans to members of the media, everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news and how it changed their lives.

Lefty Driesell
Retired college basketball coach

When I think back about Leonard I have mixed emotions. I think about him as a person and what a great kid he was. He was just a super kid. I never had any problems with him.

He probably improved as much or more than any player I ever coached. He could take you inside and dunk on you, shoot a jump shot, a turn-around jumper, a hook shot, he could do anything. And he was an excellent defensive player. Leonard worked so hard. I used to have to pull him out of practice he would dominate so much. I'd say, 'Leonard, get out. Let's see how we can do without you in there.'

The way I found out [about his death] was that the hospital called me. His parents called me. As far as I know, someone brought some drugs in there. He didn't know what he was doing. He tried it and it killed him.

I said to my son the other day, "Be honest with me, because people are going to ask me, 'did you know Lenny to ever use drugs?'" And he said, "Dad, I'm telling you, we would sit around and drink beer and he wouldn't even drink a beer with us."

The reason that I was able to handle it then and I am able to handle it today is because he was a born-again Christian and there's no doubt in my mind where he is -- he's in heaven.

Jeff Baxter
Real estate investor, Roomed with Len Bias all four years at Maryland

The night that the whole event happened, I was at my girlfriend's house and I had fallen asleep and I had her wake me up because I had an exam the next morning. She woke me up at about 12:30 and I went back to the room that Len and I shared. In our room he had the Celtics jersey, the new pair of green Reebok sneakers. I'm thinking to myself, "the guy is about to be a Boston Celtic." I was in awe.

I went to the room on the other side of the suite, (teammate) Terry Long's room. I went to the door and knocked and there was a minute or two before it was opened. I went in there, gave [Bias] a hug and he lifted me off the floor, which wasn't unusual. I saw liquor and beer in the room but if there was anything else, they would not have pulled that out in front of me. I never knew Lenny to drink any liquor.

We talked for about 30 minutes and then I returned to my room and went to sleep. I was awakened three or four hours later at like 5 o'clock in the morning. David Gregg (another teammate) came in and said "Jeff, Jeff, wake up, Lenny is passed out." I said "what?" So I walk out into the living room and Lenny is on the floor, passed out.

You see this specimen on the floor. He had a perfect build. Perfectly cut with a small waist and to see him lying on the floor with his eyes closed… I didn't know what to think. He had a thick gold chain on his neck at the time. I'm so caught up in the moment, the paramedics are coming in the door, and I'm thinking the gold chain was choking him. I am trying to find out what happened, talking to Terry and David, and neither one responds to me.

I wasn't aware at the time, but the last thing I would have thought was in his system was drugs. I would have bet my life on the fact that Lenny wouldn't have used drugs, and also that it would have been the first time.

I choose to remember all the positive things. I smile daily thinking about different things we used to do. He was so much fun and so funny. Lenny had a warm heart, he was just a good person and that came from his family.

Mike Krzyzewski (via email)
Head Coach, Duke University

I have said many times that the two most difficult opposing players to prepare for in my time in the ACC were Michael Jordan and Len Bias. Len was a gifted player. He was special, and our league has had a lot of great players. The news of his death was tragic as he would have been an amazing professional player after his college career. It was a sad day for the entire sport of basketball as we lost one of the best players of that era. When I think about Len Bias now, I think of how hard he competed and how tremendously talented he was. Other than Michael Jordan, he is the player that no teams had the answer for. He was that good.

Chick Hernandez
Sportscaster, Comcast SportsNet

"It was only after all the outpouring of emotion from around the country that I remember grasping for the first time that my son was a star. Up to then, he was just my son." - Lonise Bias

I was an intern at WUSA Channel 9 for the late, great Glenn Brenner, and we had a weekend sports anchor named James Brown. I was supposed to go out on my first story, a story on Georgetown guard Michael Jackson being drafted. I got a call from my mom.

She said "Lenny's dead" and for about 30 seconds I'm thinking, "Who in my family is named Lenny?" And finally I said, "Lenny who, mom?"

She said Len Bias.

I turned the TV on and saw the news and couldn't believe it. I just couldn't get my head around it. I was stunned.

I knew the players, I knew Lenny. I called the station and went right into work mode.
They told me to get over to campus right now; JB is on his way there. When I got to Cole Field House all the TV trucks were there, they gave me a microphone and a camera crew and said talk to as many people as you can.

We had our satellite truck parked near Washington Hall and Keith Gatlin came to the truck and asked to speak to JB. He took JB and they walked away. It was at that point that Gatlin told JB that this involved drugs. And I'll never forget JB, all 6-6 or 6-7 of him, he is a mountain of a man, I saw his body shrink. He came back to the truck and said, "We have to break this news."

After we got done with the 6:30 news, it finally dawned on me what took place. I just started to cry like a baby. Glenn Brenner picked me up, put me in his office and I lay on his couch until I could gather myself.

Scott van Pelt
ESPN SportsCenter Anchor and University of Maryland graduate

I was a sophomore and I was up at my girlfriend's house in Pennsylvania and I drove home because I had to get to my summer job, which was being the manager of the pool at Norbeck Country Club in Rockville.

I stopped at the 7-11 on Georgia Ave. in Olney to get a Big Gulp and I ran into my best friend's little brother. He had this look on his face and he said to me, "Did you hear about Bias?" And I say, "Yeah, he was the second pick, he's going to the Celtics," I thought he was talking about the draft.

He said "Bias is dead."

I said, "What are you talking about?"

And I am trying to process this information in my head. I'm 20 years old and not making sense of it. I'm pissed because I'm thinking he's not telling the truth. I remember just wandering out to the parking lot there thinking, "There's no way Len Bias is dead." I called someone to try to get to Keith Gatlin, who was one of my friends. It was just this awful, awful day. I had to work. I started just listening to the radio and hearing the stories and just freaking out.

I just tried to find someone, anyone to talk to about it. No one knew where anyone was. I drove over to campus and cameras and police are everywhere, it's just a freak show. I'm driving around thinking to myself, "This can't possibly be real."

Lenny was a god at Maryland. Absolutely a god. He was that good and he was larger than life in every sense of the word. That body, that booming voice, he was from outer space.

The thing that pissed me off more than anything and still to this day people will make an off-handed remark about it… yes, he lost his life to drugs. But I had fraternity brothers who did more drugs in a week than he did in his life. The fact that it implies he was some sort of drug fiend is a disrespectful way to view his life. As best I know, he was not into drugs.

I went to the memorial service for him at Cole. Jesse Jackson was there. Lefty spoke and Jesse spoke, Len's mom spoke. Lefty said, "One more time, let's give one more last standing O for Lenny." The place is going crazy. And you are there in Cole Field House and cheering for a dead guy. It was so bizarre.

If you are a Maryland person you can never escape it.

Keith Gatlin
High School basketball coach and owner of an athletic training company

The night he passed out it was in my dorm room. I was not involved in the actual party or whatever they where doing. I heard paramedics and woke up to that.

How often does it come up? Every day. I'm in ACC country. I'm from North Carolina. I can be on vacation with my wife. I can be anywhere in the world and people say, "Weren't you the point guard when Len Bias passed away?" It's never about what kind of player I was or what kind of person I am. That's something that's going to follow me to my grave. I don't drink or smoke and never have, but Len's death put a negative perception on all of us.

We all know that there were and are drugs and alcohol on every campus. But because it was an ACC school and because Len lost his life, it was blown way out of proportion.

I'm 41 now and looking back on it, the way it came out made it seem like the whole team was on drugs. And I say this with no disrespect to anyone; Len Bias is not the only player in college basketball that had an encounter with drugs. It is unfortunate that he paid the ultimate price.

I always tell kids, "Please be careful of what you do and who you hang out with because you can be guilty by association." That's the thing that changed my life forever.

Gary Williams
Head coach, University of Maryland

I was in the office at Ohio State that morning and a good friend called and said you won't believe this, but Len Bias died.

Your first inclination is to think it's someone's idea of a sick joke. He seemed invincible.
If you ever saw him, he looked like Superman. I just couldn't believe that it happened; it was a feeling of complete shock.

I think players today, the guys I am coaching were just born when he died. They know the history of it, and it's probably a good thing that they are aware of it. The athletic department is still very cautious in a lot of the things that they do that relate to his name.

As a coach, it's your greatest fear that one of your players dies a tragic death at an early age. Maryland became the whipping boy for what was wrong with college athletics. It wasn't fair. People would point to Maryland and say, "This is what's wrong with college athletics." Who is to say that it couldn't have been someone else?

In the 80s, cocaine was the problem. The drug testing wasn't anywhere near what it is today. If [Bias' death] had any positive effects, that was it. The death of Len Bias was a tough thing for the university. I am proud of the fact that we were able to recover.

Lonise Bias
Len's Mom

When I first heard the news about Len's death, I was at home in bed. I was asleep when we received the call and I remembered thinking it was a dream and that I would awaken soon. It was early in the morning when we got the call. I remember going to the hospital after that and just not believing it. It was only after all the outpouring of emotion from around the country that I remember grasping for the first time that my son was a star. Up to then, he was just my son.

Len was my pride and joy and losing him was one of the most difficult, challenging times of my life. I believe that Len died so that others might live. Twenty years later, my mission is still the same: to educate parents on the important role they play in their child's decision about drug use. It's important for parents to monitor their kids and keep them away from drugs. We need to work to save more than just one life and turn the youth in a positive direction--then Len's death will have not been in vain.

Dean Smith
Retired Head Coach, University of North Carolina

His senior year he was sensational. He improved each year and he almost single-handedly beat us here in Chapel Hill. I could see why Red Auerbach wanted him; he was very quick, a very good athlete and he got better and better every time we played.

The morning he died, our camp was in session and I was driving from one camp to the other, and I heard the news on the radio. I was in shock. The whole camp was in shock. It was amazing. It got so quiet everywhere. It was quiet at lunch, the whole camp, the kids; everyone in athletics that knew of him was in complete shock.

After I heard the news, I called Lee Fentress, his agent, who also represented Brad Daugherty and they were already working real hard to get things straight. It is a sad time and maybe the only good thing that could come from it is that others don't celebrate that way.

For more, including some very powerful and vivid accounts from fans about how they remember the one and only Len Bias, please click here. We also invite you to please share your own memories.

Author Greg Abel also shares his own memories.

Photos © Kevin Allen

Greg Abel is a freelance writer in Baltimore and can be reached at

Compiled by Greg Abel for Baltimore Pressbox Magazine

June 2006

John Kochan, former assistant coach, University of Maryland

Retired from basketball after many years as head coach of Millersville University

Recruited Len Bias from Northwestern High School

Len was good high school player, but he was not a mega, mega star like some other guys. Adrian Dantley, for example, when he was sophomore at DeMatha, he was already a superstar.

I thought he would be a good player, he was a little bit thin in high school But he got thicker with weights and became The Man. I thought he was just a bubbly person. I got a chance to get close with his mother and father. They came to every game; they were close and wanted to see him play.

The morning it happened, I was on my way to [Millersville University basketball camp, where Kochan was head coach], and Lenny was supposed to speak two days after that. I was totally shocked. I called his mother and asked how she was doing and what was going on. I was beside myself and obviously watched everything unfold in terms of what fell down as a result. It was a sad, sad time in the history of Maryland and the life of that family.

I had no clue that something like that was going to happen. Do I ever think he did it before? Absolutely no. What actually happened, I’ll never know, I never suspected anything, there was never a sign, never an indication that he was into drugs.

I saw a tragic accident and it made me realize that life is even more fragile than you think and mistakes can cost you dearly. What a waste.

Kenny Smith

NBA Analyst, Turner Sports

(from comments made on air, provided by Turner Sports public relations)

“I played against Len Bias in the ACC and he was a unique power forward/small forward because he was a guy who could play with his back to the basket and he had a body by Adonis, so to speak, he looked like he was sculpted. He also had this great athleticism with a soft touch. To put him with Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics, you would think that his career would have been a 15-20 year career, NBA All-Stars, NBA All-Star games and probably one of the greatest players that ever played this game if he had an opportunity to do it. I thought it made a profound effect on everyone’s idea and their thought process about drugs. In all of this tragedy, this was still a message saying you can be torn down no matter how strong (you are), how powerful you look, how great a body you have, how great a basketball player you are, if you do the wrong things, this is what happens to you.”

Meredith Geisler
Former Public Relations Director, Advantage International
Agency that represented Len Bias

For me it was more of a professional situation than personal. He was probably our firm’s most significant basketball signing from a recruiting standpoint. We had good basketball clients, we had Moses Malone, Sam Perkins, Bobby Jones and many others, but Bias was local and he had a tremendous amount of marketing and PR potential.

He was going to be the flagship player for Reebok and a star, everyone knew it. That Thursday morning, the day after his Boston Celtics press conference, was going to be a busy day. I came in to our office in Georgetown earlier than I normally do, at around 8 a.m. Before I even got off the elevator I could hear the phone ringing and ringing. I unlocked the door, no one was there yet, and picked up the phone at the front desk. And in a low, southern drawl I hear this voice in a state of panic. It was Lefty Driesell and he said, ‘I need to speak to Lee Fentress. (Fentress was Len Bias’ agent). It's an emergency.'

Lee wasn’t in yet so I just waited at the door for him. He arrived 10 or 15 minutes later. I told him Lefty is calling in a panic, but I didn’t know what was going on yet. A few minutes later Lee called me into his office and said ‘something’s happened to Bias. He might be dead. It was his heart. You need to go with [Bias’s client manager Bill Shelton] over to the Bias house and help the family deal with the media.’

I’m 26 years old at the time … it was just surreal. Bill and I are driving over there and we are about to be with a family whose child was going to be their star … and we are going to be sitting with them and their entire life has been turned beyond upside down.

When we drive up, there were literally hundreds of media camped out on their front lawn, picnic blankets, food, and all.

Gabe Harris

Reston, Virginia:

I got a call from my friend Mike Howe with the news. I figured the call was to discuss the day's lawn mowing activities, or to rehash the weekend escapades. When he told me the news, my reaction was 100 percent certainty that he was joking – and it was not funny. Then he said it again, and I knew it was real. I sunk to the bed. I remember I was in my brother’s room and I can still feel that raw gnawing in the pit of my stomach to this day. It was over. The rest of the day was a daze, just trying to go about my business, make some sense of it all.

I had to do something, so another friend and I went to his dad's tool shed and made a huge banner out of a king-sized sheet, black paint and two wooden pikes, it simply read "34".

We took it up to Westmoreland Circle at Massachusetts and Western, and held it up for hours in the June sun as rush hour motorists rolled from Maryland into the District. Some honked, some shouted out, a few stopped to say thank you, and amazingly to us, many drove past totally indifferent or uncomprehending. I am not really sure why we did it or what we hoped to accomplish, but it felt good to do something, to let the world know that we were carrying the banner of our fallen hero.

Keith Rosenbuam

Owings Mills, Md.

At the time, I was living in Leonardtown and the basketball team was in the building next to us. Bryan Palmer had just gotten kicked off the team and was now one of our roommates. I was somewhat friendly with Keith Gaitlin (who wasn’t). There were nights where basketball games or shoot-arounds would just happen on the Leonardtown Courts and Bias would drain shot, after shot, after shot. The further back he’d go, the more automatic he’d become. Watching him in a game was one thing, on a playground was ridiculous. He’d take on all comers for 1-on-1 or just a game of Horse and flash that big grin of his and then destroy anyone who’d challenge him, from a teammate or some frat guy who thought he could take LB.

The day he died, I was taking a summer class and this guy I knew, Mitch from New Jersey, came in and told me the news. I told him that wasn’t remotely funny. After class, I was walking back to the frat house and the sounds were different, it was quieter on campus. As I got near the Chapel, I could see news trucks down to Route 1, police cars starting to direct traffic and everything was immediately different. I saw a girl standing near the Chapel in absolute tears and I walked up to her and just gave her a hug. One of the news stations, DC Channel 7 I think, faded to black that night with that picture of that hug.

Twenty years later – I am no different than any other Maryland fan from that era. I always wonder what would have been; would the Bulls have won all those titles? Would Jordan or Bias have been the MVP of the league and leading scorer? I see a great college player and tell my sons, “so and so may be good, but he is no Lenny Bias. Have I ever told you about Len Bias?”

Joanna Sullivan

Editor, Baltimore Business Journal

University of Maryland graduate

I was living in Baltimore working as an intern on the Sun's copy desk the summer Len Bias died. My friend Elena and I subletted a dumpy house in Waverly from a couple Hopkins students. I remember running to answer the phone early one morning. It was my father calling from Philadelphia. He told me Len Bias died from a cocaine overdose. I couldn't believe it. Minutes later someone from the now-defunct Evening Sun called me. They were looking for Maryland students to interview before their deadline. I gave the reporter a few quotes about how sad it was. My quotes were suddenly sent across the U.S. in the first AP stories about his death. A friend from out-of-state called me to tell me they saw my quotes in a Maine newspaper.

Anyway, Lenny was a big part of my college life. Watching him play was incredible. But he was a big deal off the court too. He was definitely a celebrity on campus. He was always surrounded by women. He lived in the New Leonardtown campus apartments where I lived. I saw him often walking around or in the student union lounge.

His death completely devastated the campus. My senior year was consumed by the aftermath of his death. News crews were always on campus. Nightline even did a show from campus. Lefty Driesell resigned. The athletic department was in turmoil. I covered some of the developments as a stringer for the Evening Sun. I mostly remember the vigil Lonise Bias, Len's mother held on the campus mall. The mental picture of her holding a candle and trying to be so stoic has always stayed with me. It was a few years later that she lost her second son, Jay. I always wondered how she held it together.

Mark Luterman

1987 University of Maryland graduate

I was in Cole Field House when Lefty Driesell first spoke about the incident and I was about two feet away when he said ‘Lenny, I love you and I’ll miss you and I will see you again someday.’

The next day I also went to the wake and it was an eerie, eerie thing walking past Ben Coleman and Herman Veal and then seeing Len Bias dead in his casket. It was a feeling of complete amazement and disbelief that this incredible athlete was no longer with us. It was a surreal feeling and it’s hard to put into words and something that I will remember the rest of my life. You can’t forget about it.

To me, he was the greatest athlete I ever saw. I can remember Keith Gatlin flipping the ball up toward the rim and you’d see five or six hand go up but one would rise above and catch it and it was his, it was Len Bias.

Keith Askenas


1986 Maryland graduate

I graduated from Maryland that year and worked as an intern with the sports marketing department. I was involved in helping coordinate private workouts for Lenny with NBA teams and making sure that the Celtics were set up when they came in. When Reebok came in, I was able to sit in the room with faculty when they were negotiating the deal.

I was out of town when it happened. Some friends and I traveled from June 1st to 19th to Las Vegas and Tahoe for a trip after graduation. I actually won $500 on a bet in Vegas that Bias would be taken second overall by the Celtics. I guess I had some inside information there, but you never know what’s going to happen.

That morning (the morning of June 19th), we were sitting in the airport in Lake Tahoe, getting ready to fly home and go to a party in College Park. We called home and all of a sudden it’s, “did you hear the news?”

Our jaws dropped.

We walked around … me and three other guys … we walked around like zombies for three and a half hours at the airport and missed our flight because we were numb. We didn’t know what to do.

When we came back into town, everyone was in absolute disbelief. It was almost like we were mourning someone in our family. We went back to the fraternity house and you gave each other hugs because we lost someone who was close to us.

Andy Rosenfeld,

Columbia, Md.

I was at my summer job orientation at Winands Elementary school in Randallstown. A guy named Ron Kiewe walked in and said Len Bias died. I didn't believe him. I lived about a half mile from Winands. I sprinted home at lunch time to see my brother crying on the chair in front of the TV. I cried most of that day and the next day. I felt like a family member died. He's still the greatest basketball player I've ever seen.

Dick Davies

Baltimore, Md.

In 1986, I lived in Akron, Ohio and followed Big 10 basketball. I remember knowing who Len Bias was when he died, but I was not that familiar with him. In 1986, Johnny Dawkins and the Duke Blue Devils got all the national coverage. At the time, I could tell you any stat on JD that you wanted to know. Sadly, I knew very little about Lenny because I lived in the Midwest and Maryland was not the No. 1 team. I was actually more affected by what happened nine days after Lenny passed away. The Cleveland Browns soon to be All-Galaxy safety, Don Rogers, died of a similar cocaine overdose during his bachelor party. This guy could hit like Ronny Lott and would have been an absolute beast for a long time to come. He was the 1984 AFC defensive rookie of the year and on his way to greatness. He might have been inducted into Canton by now, an easy trip to make from Cleveland. It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years. It’s harder to believe that 9 days was not long enough for someone to reflect on the fatal mistake of another.

Jeremy Gold


There are four moments in my life that I remember exactly where I was when I heard "the news":

1. The Challenger Explosion - 6th grade math class
2. The OJ Bronco Chase - sitting around a keg in the backyard of our college apartment
. 9/11 - At my client's office in Atlanta
4. Len Bias' death – my friend Marc Butt's house.

I was only 11 and I had spent the night at Marc's house with a couple other friends from Middle School. We probably played video games on the Commodore 64 all night. The next morning, Marc's Dad called us to the TV and I just stared at images of Bias' exploits. My heart sank. I couldn't believe it. As a kid, I idolized Eddie Murray and Lenny Bias. That was it. None of it made sense. He was wearing a Celtics hat yesterday!

The ensuing days were really hard. I was only 11, so I didn't understand what was happening, but the University just seemed to get dragged through the mud. Things kept getting worse. As for Bias, in my eyes, he is the single biggest could-have-been, never-was in the history of sports.

John Beaver

I saw Lenny the night he died. We were in Town Hall drinking beer and shooting pool and Lenny came in. He was wearing his Celtics hat and we chatted for a little while. He was with a couple of guys and after they had a beer, they went into the liquor side of store and bought some stuff and left. He came back through the bar side and waived to everybody and the rest is history.

I lived in a dorm near Cole Field House and went over and watched practice quite a bit. Lenny was truly an amazing player.

Jung Lee

New York
Do I remember where I was? Sure. Was it devastating at the time? Sure. Was it a tragedy? Absolutely.

But as is often the case, the fact that he died young (see Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, etc.), has built his legend to a degree that it probably doesn't warrant.

He was a great talent of course, but one of the top five to play in the ACC as Dick Vitale says and everyone wants to believe? He's not even the best college player to play at Maryland. Albert King was a better college player than Bias, but fortunately (or unfortunately) he lived on to a mediocre NBA career. John Lucas was the first pick in the draft - as a 6-1 point guard!

One thing it did do though is scare the #!#$0 out of me that one use of drugs could kill you. That is some scary shit.

Brian Pinsky
Reisterstown, Md.

I can vividly remember exactly where I was when I got the news about Len Bias. I had just finished my sophomore year of high school year so I was asleep and my uncle called me and broke the news like Lenny was a member of my family. I was only 15 and could not really comprehend what had happened.

We lost a player who most people in this state thought was already a legend. Just a year before, I had been at Millersville University Basketball Camp in Pennsylvania and Len came up to talk to the campers and put on a dunk show. I sat 10 feet from him.

The man was a beast, he seem invincible. One of my friends asked him what his vertical leap was and I remember Lenny said, “I’m not sure, I am working on touching the top of the backboard.”

I will never forget the foul line jumper that he hit in the NCAA tournament for the Terps to win … or the steal that he made followed by a reverse dunk against North Carolina.

I think everybody in the state who follows sports knows that the drug dealer involved was Brian Tribble. It is very rare for a drug dealer’s name from 20 years ago to roll off my tongue without hesitation.

With Lenny we will never know … could he have been Jordan’s rival?

Neil Maria

I was in attendance at the last Maryland game that Bias played-in for the Terps.

March 1986

Location: Long Beach Arena (Convention Center or the like.)

Venue: NCAA Tourney

Opponent: UNLV

Winner goes to Sweet 16

UNLV advances.

However, after Maryland beat Pepperdine, the place was packed with SoCal basketball fans taking the day-off or playing hookie from work to catch a glimpse of Bias. After what I remember being a lackluster half and Maryland down by 9, 10 or 11...Bias came out in the 2nd half and literally took-on the entire UNLV starting 5 and tied the game in the first 5 minutes of the 2nd half. Patented base line jumper, steals, slams, steals, slams and patented base line jumper. (At least that is the way I remember it.)

The thing that stuck out was the manner the fans were in awe of Bias. They spoke to us like we were unbelievably fortunate to root for a team that had a talent like Bias. And, we were!!!! The best part was that we never took his talent for granted. Unfortunately Lenny did......

Greg Smouse

Baltimore, Md.

I spent my junior year of college studying at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, spending the school year very far from Davidson College (where incidentally Lefty Driesell coached with great success before coming to Maryland).

When the spring semester was over, I took advantage of the chance to do some traveling. On a very cold and wet night I found myself in a small town somewhere in the southern coast of England. As the rain beat down, I huddled inside a distinctly English red telephone booth to call a friend back home in Baltimore.

Halfway through the phone call he told that Len Bias had died of an overdose. The police were investigating. I was stunned. I was about the same age as Bias and could not believe that someone so young, so strong and so healthy, could perish.

I walked out into the rain completely alone. There was no one I could talk to. There was no one who could understand my confusion and yes, my pain. No one in England knew who Len Bias was, or why he mattered.

There was on one who would understand that I became a Maryland fan in earnest on the night my parents took me to Cole Field House in 1983 and we sat behind the Maryland band playing "Amen!" as the Terps trounced the number one UNC Tar Heels with some skinny kid named Jordan. Imagine that! Seeing Michael Jordan and Len Bias on the same court together. It remains a favorite sports memory. One I much prefer to the night I walked around in the cold, English rain trying to come to terms with the news that we are all, indeed, mortal.

One thing I wrestled with as I walked around that night was how someone could have killed such a gentle soul such as as Len Bias. Immediately upon hearing the news I was willing to buy into the conspiracy theory and exonerate Lenny from having a hand in his own demise.

When I got home several months later I realized that Lenny had killed Lenny. Someone gave him the drug, but he is the one who ingested it. He had made a bad mistake and paid a great price. I still think how magnificent he would have looked on the parquet at the Boston Garden playing with Larry Bird. It is a shame that Lenny denied himself that experience.

Kurt Helwig

Clifton, Va.

Len Bias was a GREAT player. And this was just as college hoops was exploding beyond its real die hard fans to become the nationwide phenomenon that it is now. Len Bias was as exciting and dynamic a college player as I have ever seen.. You could tell he had fun on the floor. He possessed an almost a larger-than-life persona. His senior year he was doing things on the floor that #23 hadn't even done yet.

I will never forget where I was – I was working in the mail room of an association and had my radio on. This was before the days of all-sports radio and they cut into the WMAL morning show to make the announcement. I listened in disbelief, hoping and praying that I heard something wrong. At first we did not know that it was drugs, though perhaps we suspected – we were kind of hoping against hope that it was something else.

Anyway, my friend Jimmy and I went to the memorial service at Cole. Bias was our favorite player of all time and it was incredibly sad. As far as long-term effects go, let me just say this: drugs, especially coke was, believe it or not considered fairly benign back then. It wasn't unusual to see people, our peer group of young professionals, doing it in bars and out in public.

After Len Bias died, it was like a switch was turned off, it was no longer socially acceptable to do anymore, it was just stupid and pathetic. I think the mind set was “if Bias could die doing that in the great shape he is in, why would anyone take that kind of chance?” I personally know many people who never did any drugs after that event. I like to think that if anything positive could be gained out of such a tragic experience, it was that. Maybe that is his legacy.

Alan Kline

Washington, D.C.

I remember where I was when I heard: working a summer job landscaping. Of course, I had no attachment to Maryland at the time (I lived in Boston). I was a Celtics fan back then. (today I couldn't name the starting 5.) My initial reaction was "tough break" but the Celtics have always been good and would get through it. Of course, 1986 was their last championship.

Jimmy Lynn

I graduated high school in '80 from WT Woodson (Pete Holbert and Tommy Amaker's school), then graduated from AU in '85. My favorite teams were Maryland and Georgetown. I loved the Buck Williams / Albert King / Ernie Graham Terps as well as the Patrick Ewing / Sleepy Floyd Hoyas.

But my favorite all-time college basketball player was #34, Lenny Bias.

I first remember him as a freshman ... he was raw, athletic and powerful. I so vividly remember that jump shot from the foul line during the latter part of his freshman year. I don't recall the opponent, but I remember he hit a game-winner. It showed that this kid had potential. Then, he turned in those monster years during his junior and senior years. I recall that beautiful stroke from the baseline as well as those powerful dunks, with his legs splayed open. He was cocky, but he was so good. And, he had fun playing the game.

During his last home game, a couple of good friends and I went to watch the Terps' game at RJ Bentley's in College Park. I remember one of my friends said that we had to drink a shot every time Lenny made a shot. Well, no one can drink that much -- after all, Lenny was draining jumper after jumper.

I still recall how the Duke fans were in awe of Lenny during his last game at Cameroon Indoor Stadium - they even applauded his greatness. And, who can forget that magical game he had against UNC his junior year?

I was happy for Len that he was chosen by the Celtics. After all, he would get to play w/ one of the all-time greats, Larry Bird. Wow, what a combination they would have been.

On June 19, 1986, I was visiting one of my closest friends near Princeton, New Jersey. I was scheduled to drive home that day. That was the day I got the phone call that Lenny had overdosed and died. I was in shock. "Not Len Bias!" were my first thoughts. No friggin' way. NOT LENNY BIAS. I was crushed. Devastated.

To pay homage to the Bias family, another one of my best friends and I went to Cole Field House for the memorial service. We were moved to tears as Coach Driesell asked the crowd to give Lenny one more standing ovation. I recall how hot it was in Cole that day. Brutally hot. But, we had a hole in our hearts as we sat there in disbelief ... not wanting to believe that Len Bias was no longer alive.

I still can't believe the strength Mrs Bias showed on that day. What a remarkable woman. And, to have to do it a second time with the passing of Jay Bias is almost too cruel.

I was in my first year of grad school in '86. I know that a number of friends had experimented socially with recreational drugs at that time. But, after Lenny's death, most of them stopped. Because, if it could kill our hero, Lenny Bias, it could kill anyone.

Brian Edmonds

Charlottesville, Va.

I remember it well. It made me forever terrified that if I did coke just once, my heart would explode too.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Brenda Frese feature for PressBox

The Hottest Coach in Garyland

By Greg Abel

One week after the University of Maryland women's basketball team won its first-ever national championship, head coach Brenda Frese hustled into her office at the Comcast Center chattering away with one of those wireless gizmos attached to her ear.

After finishing the call, she warmly welcomed a visitor, apologizing for running late even though she was exactly on time. Frese set out to explain how such a young coach -- she's 35 -- could lead such a young team -- no senior starters -- to a Final Four and an unlikely, inspirational national championship.


Brenda Frese captured the title in just her fourth season at Maryland.
(Photo: Greg Fiume/Maryland Public Relations)

"I am living out my dream," said Frese. Seated at the conference table in her spacious office, she was the walking, talking image of her program, dressed in black pants and a red Maryland sweater.

Frese received 650 emails and scores of phone calls after she and her Terps became the fresh, new championship faces of women's basketball. Just a few days after Maryland's 78-75 overtime thriller over Duke, she had already been back out on the recruiting trail.. That game, complete with a shot that may forever be remembered as "the shot" -- the step-back three-pointer that freshman Kristi Toliver drained over a lunging 6-foot-7 defender to force OT -- brought more buzz to the program than anyone had expected.

"Everything about that game symbolized our season," Frese said. "You take one 45- minute game and look at it. We were down by 10 at the half and by 13 at one point. What are you going to do? We make a major comeback and all five players scored in double figures. During the season, all five of our starters averaged double figures.

"We were so young and we used it to our advantage instead of as an excuse. Then the game goes to overtime, and we hadn't lost in overtime all year. There were so many variables that went our way."

Frese's dream of a national championship for Maryland seemed implausible before her arrival to College Park in 2002. The program had not been a factor in the national rankings or NCAA tournament in 15 years, and Frese went 10-18 in her first year on the sideline at Comcast Center.

But the Cedar Rapids, Iowa native -- already legendary among women's coaches for her recruiting tenacity and success -- put together a succession of top 10 classes, and the Terps were on their way.

Under Frese, Maryland has improved dramatically every year:18-13 in her second year and a first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1993; then 22-10 last season and another second round exit in the tournament; to this year's 34-4 top five national championship juggernaut.

Along the way, Frese injected her program and players with boundless optimism and confidence. She brought in seven high-school all Americans and allowed them to play an open, attacking style. With balanced scoring, undeniable chemistry, and just a dash of magic, there they were a few years later -- cutting down the nets in Boston after spectacularly defeating North Carolina and Duke in the Final Four and championship game.

Suddenly, all over Maryland and even around the country, basketball fans were talking about Maryland women's hoops. Toliver's shot was the highlight of the week on SportsCenter. Everyone, it seemed, had seen the game, or at least a replay of the shot.

"I hired Brenda because I thought there was something special about her," said Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow, who lured a then 31-year-old Frese from the University of Minnesota after just one year with the Gophers and just three as a Division I coach. "Certainly winning the national championship in only her fourth year puts us ahead of schedule, but I did believe under her leadership that we would eventually win a national championship."

Toliver, a native of Harrisonburg, Va. and former state player of the year, has only good things to say about Frese. "I just like how she is involved in every play on the sidelines, pacing up and down, clapping and reinforcing that good things are going to happen. I just love her enthusiasm."

That enthusiasm and good old-fashioned hustle has helped Frese land big-time players such as Toliver and fellow starters Crystal Langhorne, Laura Harper, Marissa Coleman, and Shay Doron. Doron selected Maryland over Duke and Harvard three years ago and her arrival was one of the first signs that Maryland women's basketball was about to change for the better.

"I think her youth has really helped her out," said Doron, a junior and the most veteran member of the starting five. "Communication is really important with Coach B. If you are not a good communicator, she is going to force you to communicate."

Midwestern Roots, East Coast Style

The story of how Brenda Frese got to Maryland and turned the Terrapins into a national power starts back in Iowa, where the fourth of Bill and Donna Frese's six children grew up playing basketball. Early on she displayed the kind of work ethic and confidence that would make her a Division I head coach before her 30th birthday.

Her father remembers an AAU tournament when Brenda was a 14-year-old ninth grader and won a free throw shooting contest. Each player got 10 warm-up shots and then had to take 25 for the competition. Frese knocked down 35 in a row and wanted to keep going.

"One of the officials came up and said, 'young lady, you can stop shooting now,'" Bill Frese recalled. "She always was very motivated. As I look back, I can remember after her high school games, she'd almost act like a coach at the time, always asking what she could do to improve."

As a star forward for Cedar Rapids Washington High School, Frese helped her team win a state championship over a more highly regarded opponent after trailing by 10 at the half -- exactly as Maryland did against Duke. Bill Frese said a teammate of his daughter's recalled Brenda telling her teammates, "we got 'em right where we want 'em" before going out and winning the championship.

In Boston during the Final Four, Bill Frese said the entire immediate family, save one sibling who could not make it, gathered for the weekend to watch Brenda's team pull off an even more astounding championship. "It was so inspiring," he said. "I just looked around and everyone had tears in their eyes."

Frese credits her parents, who work together in real estate, with instilling in her the work ethic and dedication that has made her successful. After high school, Frese went off to the University of Arizona on a basketball scholarship, but injuries limited her playing career. After starting as a sophomore, she did not play at all during her senior year and gravitated toward coaching. When a spot opened up at local Pima Community College, Frese became the only assistant coach, and did a little bit of everything -- coaching, recruiting, even scheduling.

After graduating in 1993, Frese took an assistant position with Kent State and stayed there two years before accepting an elevated role with Coach Bill Fennelly at Iowa State. There she helped rebuild the program and also coached her younger sister, Stacy, an all Big 12 performer.

A Recruiting Force

It was at Iowa State that Frese began earning a reputation as a recruiting force, someone who would out-hustle, outsell, and out-travel her competition. "She does the work, has great people skills … she knows how important it is to a program and she can really relate well to young people," said Fennelly.

He recalled a now famous instance when Frese drove through a terrible snow storm to see a player -- Megan Taylor -- who eventually became one of the best players in Cyclones history. In her four years with Fennelly at Iowa State, the Cyclones made the tournament three times. In 1999, Frese went off to Ball State to become the head coach at the tender age of 29.

She wouldn't stay long. Frese coached Ball State to records of 16-13 and 19-9 in her two years there, somewhat remarkable considering that the program hadn't had a winning season in nine years. Then Minnesota and the Big 10 came calling, and Frese hopped another rung on the coaching ladder. Her first and only season in Minnesota resulted in another attention grabbing turnaround job -- a 22-10 record for a team that went 8-20 the season before.

Yow lured Frese to Maryland during the men's team's championship season, landing her at a time when she was red hot, having been named AP national coach of the year and with other pursuers, including Ohio State, on her trail.

In 2004, Frese signed a contract extension that will keep her in College Park through 2010. Open to renegotiation at any time, it includes a $500,000 buyout clause, should she jump ship to the WNBA or another program.

"I feel like I have the best job in the country," said Frese. "I made three moves in four years to get to the University of Maryland. They were all the right moves, but it is very hard personally to be able to rebuild three programs and devote that amount of energy and time along the way. I love being here and having stability with both feet on the ground."

Along with all Frese's quick and remarkable success has come criticism and rumor mongering. A few articles have popped up in places like The Washington Post and citing coaches (who would not go on the record) saying Frese pushes the limits of the recruiting rules, and even suggested that the NCAA is poking around.

Yow would hear none of it, and referred any questions about an NCAA inquiry to Kathy Worthington, the executive senior associate athletic director, who heads compliance.

"We are not under investigation at all," Worthington said. "The NCAA has a national program where they interview high profile recruits in every sport to see how the recruiting process is going. We've had a number of high profile recruits on our women's basketball team and they did talk to several members of the team to review the process. If anything, it shined a good light on the standards we work by when we're recruiting."

Frese chalks up the negative talk to jealousy or envy and some of the unfortunate sides of human nature.

"It's something I've had to deal with," Frese said. "When you have success, there are a lot of people who support you and then there's a lot of people who don't want you to succeed for one reason or another."

What Now?

How do you top a national championship? It's an interesting problem, of course, and one that any coach in the country would love to have. Maryland fans need look no further than the men's program at College Park to realize that championships and those "special seasons" can be fickle things that can come and go.

But unlike the Gary Williams team that won the title in 2002, and then lost most of the nucleus to graduation or the NBA or both, the Maryland women's team returns all five starters and 97 percent of their scoring from this year's team.

So, of course the Terps will be the No. 1 team heading in to the year, with a bulls-eye on their back and the status as leaders rather than chasers.

Aside from more wins and titles, another item on Frese's agenda is increasing attendance at the Comcast Center. Frese says she and her team will take care of the winning, but she is hoping that the community, which rallied around the team and its tournament run, will come out in greater numbers next year to see the same bunch try to defend.

The team averaged only about 4,500 fans at home games this past season, but has already sold 2,000 new season ticket plans since the national championship. Whatever happens, Frese said her coaching style and attitude won't change. "I just try to be as positive and confident for my players as I can," she said. "I want to surround them in an environment that's nothing but supportive. When you have players on the floor who believe in each other, you can withstand anything that comes up."

Issue 1.2: May 4, 2006

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Good Gracious Terrapin Nation, We Have a National Championship

Whenever students in College Park take to partying on Route One, I feel compelled to sound off in some fashion, so here are some random thoughts and comments in appreciation of the women's national championship:

It is ALWAYS fun to beat Duke. I don't quite have the same level of distaste for Coach G. as I do for Coach K., that would not be possible, because I can actually can spell krzwesyschbdski (was that right?) and I can't even remeber what the G stands for, but don't you just love watching Dukies sulk and Terps celebrate? That's like chocolate and peanut butter in my book people, two great tastes that taste great together.

How about that three-pointer
to send the game in OT? That was just SICK! Toliver (oh, we're going straight to last names now), pulled off a step-back three in the face of that huge behemoth of a center for Duke and it was all net. Wow. On second thought, WOW!!During halftime, ESPN ran what it called the #1 shot in the women's basketball tournament of all time. They selected Charlotte Smith's buzzer-beater for North Carolina to beat Louisiana Tech in the 1993 national championship game. That was a great shot, but I think there's a new #1 in town and it's Toliver's shot from last night. Here's why: For some reason, UNC's Smith was WIDE OPEN. The Lady Techsters (note women's hoop jargon) completely forgot to guard her. She was squared up, had no defender in her face and made a set shot. It was a great shot, and it was at the buzzer to win a national championship, but it wasn't a fadeaway, off the dribble, true jumper with a female Mark Eaton flying at her.

Speaking of Duke's monster truck of a center, I am simply happy for that girl that college basketball exists and she has an outlet for her huge-osity. Anyone else notice that she never smiled? All business, all the time. She's 6-7 and shot 80 percent from the free throw line. She was better than Tahj Holden.

Wonder what Gary
thinks about all this success? I didn't see any crowd shots of our favorite sideline lunatic, perhaps he bellied up at Bentley's for the occassion and then set something on fire. Perhaps not.

Women's basketball played at a high level is actually a great game. The players are very skilled, they make shots, share the ball and run a nice, fluid offense, lots of layups and back-door cuts.

Since I don't have a history of hostility toward the Duke women's team, it wasn't as if I really hated them while watching the game; then that big power forward Chastity Bono or whatever her name, is body-slammed our Israeli fireplug Shay Doron and it was on people, it was on.

You think people will actually go to women's games in College Park next year?

Whose attendance will change more dramatically, George Mason's men's team (averaged 4500 in a 10k arena, with less than 1,000 students on average) or Maryland women, who averaged Lamont Jordan and his posse?

Anyone else notice that the assistant sitting next to Coach G. on the Duke bench was kind of hot? At the very least she was quite stylish.

How about that Lamont Jordan by the way. Big Terps women booster, who knew?

OK, that's the best I can do on limited knowledge of a team I've seen play one full game. I hope you enjoyed that as much as me. Seriously, amazing college game last night, that was incredible.