"If I live to be a hundred years old, I will always remember what happened ."
Billy Bryant former Maryland basketball player
Sixteen months after their academic problems at the University of Maryland were headline news, basketball players Larry Gibson, John Bilney, Billy Bryant and Jo Jo Hunter still feel the pain.
The four athletes were on academio probation for the fall semester of 1977, but none flunked out of school. However, Bryant transferred to Western Kentucky and Hunter to Colorado.
Gibson and Bilney are still members of the Terrapin varsity.
The four players and two others mentioned in newspaper stories, Lawrence Boston and Mike Davis, filed a $72 million invasion-of-privacy suit last year against The Washington Star and the Diamondback, the University of Maryland student publication.
Charles County Circuit Court Judge George W. Bowling dismissed their claim on the basis that the players were public figures and that there was insufficient proof of an intent to inflict emotional distress.
The players' counsel, Walter Madden, has noted an appeal with the Court of Special Appeals in Annapolis.
The Post recently asked the four players to reflect on their experiences of the past 16 months.
Gibson is a quiet man, so shy that he rarely receives the media recognition he deserves as one of Maryland's most consistent players.
The 6-foot-9 center chose to attend Maryland partly because his mother liked the idea of his remaining close to his Baltimore home.
Now a senior, Gibson was asked if he would choose Maryland again knowing what he knows now. He paused a long while before answering.
"I don't think so. No," said Gibson. "These years have been hard, playing basketball, adjusting socially and academically. It's been tough.
"I think I would have gone to a trade school, or a smaller school. I think I could have still played basketball, and whatever is meant to happen would have happened. Marvin Webster didn't go to a big-time school."
Webster is the most successful basketball player to come out of Baltimore in a number of years, routing himself to the NBA by way of Baltimore's Morgan State.
Gibson, a criminology major, said the probation incident "is something you never can erase out of your mind. It's something that will always be there, especially with me going to a predominantly white school like Maryland.
"One night on the other side of campus, about 11:30, a truckload of white guys drove by. I don't know if they were students or not. One of them yelled out, 'You dumb, black jock!'
"I've had my ups and downs here. I guess anybody does. Lefty (Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell) told me about the work I'd have to do. I'm sure a lot of people do things they don't like.
"I feel a degree is all right. It's not fantastic. I think you really have to go to graduate school to get a degree that will really help you."
Baltimorians are proud of Gibson. They've seen promising young athletes leave their city's playgrounds and not do as well as him.
Asked if he is proud of what he has accomplished, Gibson nodded.
"Especially at times when I go home," he said. "I was shopping one time, and heard two guys standing near me talking about me.
"I heard them say, 'Gibson? He's doing well. He's still in college.'"
A junior reserve forward, Bilney is the team's quintessential free spirit. His sense of humor and appetite for the absurd are legendary on the College Park campus.
After one game, in which Bilney said he misfired a free throw "that almost broke the backboard," he came home to find a pile of bricks in front of his dormitory door.
"In high school, I shot eight air balls from the free throw line in one game," Bilney recalled. "One of them only got halfway up the lane. One of my teammates claimed I was throwing the ball back to the ref."
Of the probation furor, Bilney said:
"It's there all the time. I think about it every time I take an exam, every time I walk into a new class, every time my parents ask how I'm doing in school. It will always be with me.
"I didn't come here just for academics. I came here to play basketball. I didn't promise to be a Rhodes scholar.
"It perturbs me how some of the students around here think that we are treated special. I don't ask for anything special. But I also don't expect to be thought of as an idiot because I've been on probation, when it's obvious to me that there is so much more going on around me than there is for the other 2,000 or so students who were on probation that semester.
"I missed four classes yesterday (when the team was in North Carolina). The Las Vegas trip took four days. The ACC tournament takes four days. It is obvious to me that we don't have as much time as everyone else."
Bilney finds the campus community still is intricately versed on the probation story.
In front of a class, a professor told Bilney, "It was nice of you to show up." One fan in the stands at the Duke game wore a dunce cap with the inscription "Bilney's IQ-50." Fifty is Bilney's uniform number.
"That's all right," said Bilney. "Gibson's was 32.
"How long will it go on? I can't tell you. Maybe one day when I apply for a job, they'll say, 'I remember you. You're lazy.'
"I have my own beliefs about everything from religion to academics to ball. I cannot picture myself as a failure.I know I'm smart. I could be a 3.0 (B student) or a 3.4; it's just a matter of sitting down and working at it. But there is only so much time and you have to give up something, and I'm a very social person.
"The season gets to be a real zoo. Last year was a 15-ring circus. You have to get away from it once in a while. We do crazy things to keep our sanity. It's a way of life here.
"It's my own philosophy that I'm going to be a success at what I do. I just want a piece of paper (a degree) and I can handle the rest."
Besides the added pressure of being public figures and having more timeconsuming obligations, basketball players have the same problems as other students -- trying to find teachers, classes and majors that interest them.
"I haven't found anything that has totally captivated me. I thought I would by now," said Bilney. "I've been in and out of majors -- math, business, recreation."
Bilney is in favor of dropping the lawsuit. He feels it will not help him any further in reconstructing his reputation.
"It's failed once so I think we should just drop it now," said Bilney. "I know I'm not an idiot. If people think I am, fine. Coach says you can't change first impressions."
A cooperative, gifted player from Washington, Bryant could not make things work at Maryland. Besides his academic problems, which he solved by last fall, Bryant fell from the leading scorer's penthouse to Coach Lefty Driesell's doghouse, for a number of reasons.
Last year, Driesell said he benched Bryant for his poor defense. This season, when Bryant's defense had improved but his shooting fell off, Bryant and the seldom-used Bob Hart were the only Terrapins who didn't play in Maryland's ACC opener.
"There was no explanation," said Bryant. "After the game, all Coach said to me was, 'Good game.' Yes, I'm sure he was saying it to me. There was no one else in the hall. I just kept walking out of the locker room."
Bryant never walked back in, quitting the next day and eventually transferring to Western Kentucky, where he will be ineligible to play until several games into next season.
Asked why things didn't work out for him, Bryant said, "I really haven't found out the true reason. It was puzzling to me. I'm sorry things didn't work out at Maryland. I would not have transferred if I could have had more playing time."
Bryant said he now wishes he had transferred immediately after last season.
"It was useless to think I could work it out. It was obvious I was going up against a brick wall," he said. "Sitting out a year does give me a chance to get my head together. I'm very pleased and very happy with the situation."
Bryant, majoring in textiles, says he is studying harder, having seen how quickly basketball success can slip through a player's fingers.
"The academic thing is still with me. I don't think it will ever be gone," said Bryant. "After the story, I avoided people for a while. Then I had to just accept it.
"It bothered me a great deal. It made me look like I had really done something wrong. It put pressure on my parents, my family. People were approaching them the same way they were approaching me, asking questions. It caused a great deal of embarrassment to my dad and mom.
"I feel the school did what they could for me as far as academics. Even if that (the newspaper stories) hadn't happened, I don't think I ever would have been on probation again. I think I was on a new track. I was in a fraternity that had mandatory study hall from 8 until 12 Monday through Friday."
Bryant said that he did "not really enjoy the studies, but I know that's what I have to do to get a degree.
"I don't want to spend four years just cruising. I've always known this but in the past year or two I've really realized it. I have experienced what can happen in basketball."
Jo Jo Hunter
A tireless player and accurate shooter at guard, Hunter played well at Maryland but was not particularly accepted by his teammates, who felt he played selfishly. Hunter and Bryant -- both from the District -- kept to themselves.
Hunter, now at Colorado, is also sitting out the year. He says sometimes, "I think about the Maryland games, and about the problems, too. And about the disagreements with my teammates."
Asked if he would choose Maryland again, Hunter said, "As of now, I'd say no. You should know what your role is going to be on a team and that was something I didn't really know. I figured there was a spot for me."
Hunter said he decided to transfer because "I just figured we had too many players. The team developed some problems."
Hunter said that the probation controversy hurt him but had nothing to do with his transferring to Colorado.
"It made me more aware of the importance of going to class, getting a degree and staying out of academic trouble," said Hunter. "I'm never going to forget it. The people back home still think of me as one of 'those' players.
"I hope basketball players of the future will take it as an example. I let a lot of people in the area down, a lot of young kids who look up to me.
"I think the school helped me in every way they could. The trouble was me, not coach. I still feel he is a good coach and good person. When they came out to the Air Force Academy, I called him, and I called him when I came home during the break. It's not as bad as it would seem.
"I have more peace of mind but I still get homesick," said Hunter. "The school is smaller, the classes smaller. I want to get a degree, to show the people back home I can do it."