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A Bad Trip
Gary McLain
March 16, 1987
The Downfall of a Champion
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March 16, 1987

A Bad Trip

The Downfall of a Champion

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Looking back at how I lost weight and caught colds all the time, it occurs to me: If I had been someone else looking at me, I would have known I was on cocaine. I wonder what would have happened if I'd been stopped. Now I wish Coach Mass had tested me then, or gotten me some help, or something. But, of course, I can't blame Coach Mass or anybody else for what I went through. I only blame myself.

The final blow that season—blow as in loss and blow as in coke—came early in the NCAA tournament. We were in Milwaukee for the first and second rounds, and a player I knew at another school got me cocaine whenever I wanted it. After practices I would find my friend and get high.

I was hanging out all night in my hotel room, getting high. We got sniffed-up until early in the morning, and then I had to practice the next day. Drabby and tired, I wasn't effective. My concentration was poor. Guys were blowing right by me. In the first round of the tournament we beat Marshall 84-72. I had five points, three assists, four fouls. Then, two days later, we lost 64-56 to Illinois. I missed three shots from the floor and didn't score the whole game. My tournament performance was the worst on the team. I was torn and worn and couldn't wait for the end of the term.

By senior year the girl I was seeing had become worried about me. She kept telling me I had a problem and tried to get a mutual friend to convince me of it. I insisted I would stop, but I did cocaine whenever I had a chance.

I had stopped selling, because I was in massive debt from doing too much of our inventory. But I did start free-basing. I knew a guy who hung around the gym, a guy Coach Mass used to ask me about because he didn't like the way he looked. This guy had already been getting me reefer, and before the season started he introduced me to free-basing. He came by the room one night, woke me up and asked if I wanted to try it. "Sure," I said. That was my attitude. I'd heard about it; I'd try it.

I was adventurous when it came to drugs. I would never stick a needle in my arm, but I liked trying new things. My warped concept of reality said, I'll try this and it'll be all right. And I liked it. So I started free-basing whenever I had the chance. I used to call the guy Jiffy Pop because he was so good at cooking up the base.

I went on a free-basing binge that lasted a couple of months. I tended to get really mad at myself, wondering if I was addicted, breaking my pipe a couple of times in frustration. Then I'd just find another pipe. There was always a way back because I was addicted.

Friends talked to me about stopping. I was looking really bad again. But at this point I didn't care what my peers said. Every now and then I'd do cocaine. All the time I had my pot. Before the season, during the season, whatever. I did cocaine before the Pennsylvania game at the Palestra on Dec. 15. They were a flop team in the Big Five, and I figured I didn't have to be fresh for that game, so why not do some? We won 80-67, and I scored four points. Again, before a game with Georgetown, I did some cocaine. In the locker room I was real quiet, just laying back. Usually, I was loud, getting everybody together. My mood had changed drastically. I played 39 minutes against Georgetown without scoring a point. We lost 52-50 in overtime.

We played some of our best basketball on the way to the Final Four in Lexington. Of course, I did drugs, too, during the championship drive. Out of nowhere, an old college friend, a guy I used to get high with, showed up in Dayton, where we were playing our first NCAA tournament game. I had known this guy since freshman year. He said he would follow us as far as we went.

My friend arrived at the Final Four with a fresh supply of cocaine. Before the semifinals against Memphis State, he gave me a gram for afterward. But I wanted to do some right then, before the game. Yet I was thinking, This is the Final Four. There's no way I'm going to do this.

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