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Reefer Madness 

If we can set aside all the sensationalism that surrounds the incident, maybe we could begin to regain our perspective. Gonzaga basketball star Josh Heytvelt and redshirt freshman Theo Davis were arrested on suspicion of felony drug possession. Not drug use. Not driving while under the influence of drugs. Not reckless driving. Not selling drugs. Not disturbing the peace. Not even underage drinking. They were stopped only because of a faulty brake light. Once at the car, the officer smelled pot and made a search, which led to a discovery, followed by arrest. The young men have pleaded not guilty. They have been suspended from the team "indefinitely" and await formal charges.

Assuming the story has been accurately reported, if I were Coach Mark Few, I think I'd be more angry to discover that my ace big man was partying anywhere the night before an early next-day game, one of the two most important league games of the year.

But about that sensationalism: The Spokesman-Review, which often seems to lose sight of the fact that it is a daily newspaper and not a gossip tabloid, now informs us of their upcoming article on marijuana (which will appear before this Inlander issue goes to press): "Is it a gateway drug?"

Wow! I can't wait!

While many other national media outlets are covering the Gonzaga story, so far as I've been able to determine, only the Spokesman-Review has used the incident as an excuse to produce a sequel to Reefer Madness.

That this story is attracting so much attention is a story in itself -- the media loves a good emperor-has-no-clothes story, and a case of out-of-control players at a college that has a squeaky-clean reputation fits the description. Watching the mighty fall is a national pastime, whether it's politicians, celebrities, athletes or entire athletic programs.

I thought about all this early Monday morning as I was camped out at the McCarthey Center, waiting for the ticket office to open so I could pick up two tickets for the upcoming game against Portland. As I sat there in the corridor, which opens onto the basketball floor, my eyes were drawn to the NCAA banners that hang at the opposite end of the court -- eight of them, including one Elite Eight and two for the Sweet Sixteen. I pictured the many players and coaches who have come to personify basketball at Gonzaga and, by extension, Gonzaga itself.

Coach Few no doubt shows all his prospective recruits these banners, but I wonder if he has them take the time to get a real feel for what they mean to the school and the community. I'd suggest that instead of using the banners to promote his program, he consider doing just the opposite. With a sweep of his arm past all eight, he might caution the prospect to think twice before coming to Gonzaga. Why? Because Gonzaga players, all of them, are expected to comport themselves in such a way as to reflect well on what those banners represent while showing respect to the traditions that produced them. That's a big job -- something a recruit may not have to worry much about at a different school.

Heytvelt gives every indication of not yet fully understanding or, worse, accepting the importance of this message. That said, he is a kid of undeniable talent. I'm old enough to remember Bill Russell, who starred on 11 NBA championship Celtic teams. He ran the court, blocked shots and took down rebounds with more speed, grace and effect than any player before or since. When I watch Heytvelt run the court, I think of Russell -- and that's saying something.

But Heytvelt needs to be reminded that his coach has been successful not just because he has recruited talented basketball players; Few has been successful because he has recruited talented basketball players of good character. Coach Few must be asking himself whether he missed something about Heytvelt. Maybe this youngster has neither the maturity nor strength of character necessary to accept and appreciate that he has obligations extending even beyond the teammates he has so let down. Can he appreciate that his obligations extend to all the John Stocktons, the Dan Dickaus, the Ronny Turiafs, the J.P. Batistas, the Adam Morrisons, to Mark Few and all those other players who came before him? If he can't -- or won't -- measure up to these standards, well... he wouldn't be the first talented athlete to self-destruct. I hope it doesn't come to that.

We also need to remind ourselves that the young man is only 21 years old. And his partner in this incident, Theo Davis, is even younger: 19. Here you have two young people doomed by age and gender to occasionally do really stupid things. I imagine that Few is trying to determine whether this was just one stupid thing or if it's part of a troubling pattern.

Assuming a Gonzaga investigation determines that this was an isolated incident, what comes next? Remember, this is a Catholic institution, so there should be punishment, forgiveness and, ultimately, a second chance.

If a second chance is in order, my streetwise lawyer friend recommends a two-game suspension -- just for staying late at the party. Other penalties can -- and should -- await the legal outcome.

In the meantime, both of these student athletes should spend some time looking up at those banners and meditating on what they represent. They don't just represent wins. They represent the kinds of young men who won.

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