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A Fallen Star Begins To Chart His Course

"When that happened, I wasn't even mad," Forte said. "I knew something like that would happen. I mean, I'm not the kind of person that usually carries a gun, but I felt like the world was against me. I knew I would have to hit rock-bottom."

But his rapid spiral to that low point confounded those who knew Forte best. Wootten remembered Forte as "a people-pleaser, a guy with a good head on his shoulders." Guthridge remembered him as "very coachable so long as you kept him on the right path." After Forte's arrest, both men called their former player and asked a pressing question: What happened?

Former DeMatha and UNC standout Joe Forte, more than a year removed from a troubled stint in the NBA, is starting over with the NBDL's Asheville Altitutde. (John Coutlakis - Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times)

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"My whole life, I had people looking out for me," Forte said. "At DeMatha I had Coach Wootten, and at North Carolina I had Coach Guthridge. Those guys took me under their watch, man. They made sure I did everything right.

"Then in the NBA, I didn't have anybody watching me. I had to make my own decisions, and I guess I wasn't totally ready for that."

At the beginning of training camp, the Sonics released Forte, deciding that it was better to pay him not to be on the team.

"His talent was never a problem," Seattle General Manager Rick Sund said. "There are a lot of guys with the talent to play in this league, and Joe was right there. He just never got his act together."

And now, even if he does, it might not matter. The league puts a premium on first impressions, one general manager said, and teams will hesitate to pick up Forte given his disastrous first stint in the NBA.

It's a reality Forte is well aware of. A week after his arrival in Asheville, he confided in Meyer, his head coach, and asked out loud a question that sometimes privately plagued him: What if he collected himself in the NBDL, matured and still never got another shot at the NBA?

Meyer thought for a second and then looked back at Forte, a player who might have forever lost his reputation in the gap between potential and production.

"I think if you come here and turn everything around, it doesn't matter what everyone else thinks," Meyer said. "Whether you get back to the NBA or not, you're going to feel better if you take back your reputation."

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