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Drugs were all around. Getting high was no problem. But getting good grades started to become one. When I got high, I would come home and sleep a lot. My mother would say, "What's wrong with your eyes?" I'd tell her it was nothing, or allergies. That was the beginning of my lies.
Before my sophomore year, Coach Donlon decided to accept an offer from Methuen, a high school in Massachusetts. It's about 25 miles north of Boston. Coach Donlon told me that if I stayed I could be the best player ever at Maria Regina.
I was getting C's and D's. I knew I had to get my grades together, and get my life together, if I wanted to go to college. I was hanging out with the wrong kids, getting high all the time. I thought it would be great to just leave all that and get another start somewhere. My mother and I thought it would be best if I joined Coach Donlon at Methuen. Coach Donlon had an ail-American family, a wife and three beautiful kids. My mother left the choice to me. So, I left Maria Regina after the first month of school and moved in with the Donlons. Coach became my legal guardian.
The Donlons made me feel like a part of their beautiful home. The refrigerator was always full, and I had my own room. Most important. Coach Donlon cared a lot about me and wanted to help me.
His belief in discipline carried over into the way he treated me off the court. The first time he caught me doing drugs, I was in the woods behind the school, smoking pot with a few friends. He had walked around back and come through the weeds. All of a sudden I heard the loudest voice I had ever heard yell, "Gary, what are you doing?" As I blew smoke out of my mouth, my heart almost stopped. It was the first time I had ever been caught. I felt terrible. He told my mother what happened and suspended me for several games, telling anyone who asked that it was because of bad grades.
Another time, I was caught smoking with a friend by the pool outside our house. Again, Coach Donlon said he would have to tell my mother. And he made some new threats: "If you keep on doing this stuff, you're not going to be able to go anywhere. Nothing good will happen to you. There are people out there who will die from this stuff."
I wasn't scared enough to stop.
I was one of the best high school point guards in the East as a senior, and more than 100 colleges wanted me to play for them. But Coach Donlon knew I was a fast kid, so he kept an eye on the recruiting. He would only let me visit two schools, Holy Cross and Villanova. He knew that if people offered me money or a car, I would take it. That's how I was. Coach Donlon, who's now an assistant at Northwestern, didn't want me to meet recruiters or boosters like that. So I never had any improper offers.
There were no offers when I went to Holy Cross. I knew people who went on visits to other schools and got limo rides and money and clothes. But Holy Cross was the blahs. There were too many people wearing turtlenecks, and alligators on their chests. There was no way I was going to Holy Cross even though I really liked the coach, George Blaney.
Villanova, which I visited over the last weekend in September of 1980, was a different story. It had a big-time image. Alex Bradley was on the team. So were Aaron Howard, Happy Dobbs, Tom Sienkiewicz and John Pinone, guys I'd seen on TV. Holy Cross didn't have any real TV exposure, so what would I want with them?