University of Maryland basketball coach Lefty Driesell said yesterday he believes Len Bias just "went along with the gang" when he ingested an unusually pure dose of cocaine that killed him last week, but Driesell said he does not believe drug use is a major problem on his team.
"I'm convinced Bias came back from Boston, he had signed a contract with Reebok athletic shoes , he was happy and excited and somebody said, 'Hey, Leonard, try this,' " Driesell said. "Leonard went along with the gang and he paid the price for it."
Bias' coach said he is "convinced" that Bias had not used or even tried cocaine prior to last Thursday morning.
Driesell also denied assertions by Prince George's State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr. that he instructed his players, some of whom were present in Bias' dormitory suite when he collapsed, not to cooperate with police in their investigation into Bias' death.
Players Terry Long and David Gregg, both dorm mates of Bias, and a longtime friend, Brian Tribble, were said to be with Bias when he collapsed in his Washington Hall dormitory suite a week ago after using an unusually pure dose of cocaine. Marshall next week will begin a grand jury investigation into Bias' death that will focus in part on whether Driesell acted appropriately when he called a team meeting immediately after Bias died and advised his players not to comment on certain issues.
Driesell's comments yesterday came during a Capitol Hill news conference called by the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control in the wake of Bias' death. The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Boston Celtics General Manager Red Auerbach and Driesell joined subcommittee chairman Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and other panel members in calling on sports officials, educators and the federal government to mount a stronger effort to combat drug abuse.
"Len Bias' death has got to be a lesson in itself for athletes at Maryland and all athletes at other universities . . . . I'll do everything in my power, as I've tried to do in the past, to discourage young athletes and anyone I come in contact with from using any kind of narcotics," said Driesell.
Asked about the resignation Tuesday of the team's academic adviser and the disclosure that Bias and four of the team's 12 players flunked out of school last semester, Driesell said he believes serious academic problems are commonplace among major college basketball players. In Bias' case, it was "not a big tragedy," he said. "I think he realized that in a couple of months he'd be worth multi-millions."
Driesell said that Bias, like other top players in their senior year of college, was busy talking with professional teams and playing in all-star games -- which frequently took him away from the classroom.
"If you polled all the seniors in the ACC Atlantic Coast Conference , most would have the same problem," said Driesell.
Spokesmen for Duke, Wake Forest and North Carolina said yesterday that all nine seniors on those ACC teams graduated this spring. At Georgia Tech, one of the three seniors on the team graduated this spring. None of the three seniors on Clemson's team or the two seniors playing for North Carolina State graduated, according to academic coordinators for the athletic departments at those schools. There were no seniors on the Virginia team.
Jackson, who eulogized Bias at a memorial service Monday night, yesterday called for a "major summit meeting" of college administrators, coaches, and pro team representatives to devise a strategy to combat the escalating problem of drug abuse among athletes.
"They must together look at the pressure of 'professional' athletics under an amateur and academic veneer," he said. " 'Professional' is the only way to understand a situation where athletes are not going to school, not graduating, but instead, being propped up and pumped up."
University of Maryland Chancellor John B. Slaughter issued a statement earlier this week saying that the university has "a comprehensive policy on substance abuse" including random drug testing for student athletes. He also said the university is cooperating fully with the criminal investigation of Bias' death.
Slaughter's office issued a memo yesterday telling school officials to refrain from commenting on anything related to Bias' death. "Any comments will have to come from the chancellor's office," Athletic Director Dick Dull said.
Driesell's office had said the coach wanted to hold a news conference to address concerns about his program but had to await permission to do so.
Football coach Bobby Ross said he "recommended" his players refrain from talking to the media about the Bias incident when he held a team meeting Tuesday. He said the Bias investigation was only one thing he discussed. Ross is also having some of his players undergo drug tests this week, saying it was part of routine physicals.
Staff writer Sally Jenkins contributed to this report.