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Bill Bayno gets second chance at Loyola Marymount

July 16, 2008

By Victoria Sun
Special to The LA Times

The day Bill Bayno decided he needed to stop drinking, nobody advised him to seek help.

Not his boss, family, friends or others who might have suspected his erratic behavior was the result of his problems handling alcohol.

It was Dec. 19, 1999, and Bayno, as coach of the Nevada Las Vegas basketball team, had just suffered a gut-wrenching loss to Oklahoma State.

Up next were four days off for a Christmas break, and Bayno committed himself to laying off the liquor that had haunted him his entire life.

The self-imposed timeout didn't last long. After some holiday shopping, he had a few beers with some friends, leading to yet another all-night binge.

"Sure enough, I couldn't control it," says Bayno, 46, who was recently hired to take over Loyola Marymount's program. "For me, that was just an awakening that I didn't have control of my life.

"I went to a friend's house and broke down. I called my mom and said, 'I've got to stop. I've got to change.' "

There were a couple of stops and starts over the next couple of years, but Bayno says he hasn't had alcohol since May 25, 2002.

And that's one big reason he's confident that his second job as a college head coach will turn out better than the first.

Nevada Las Vegas fired Bayno in December 2000, seven games into his sixth season, under a cloud of allegations that he had improperly recruited Lamar Odom. Though the NCAA eventually cleared Bayno of wrongdoing, he believes his reputation for being a partyer greatly contributed to his demise.

"I didn't commit any violations, but I think the perception was that they had just had enough," Bayno says. "My lifestyle, I think, was an issue."

Bayno was hot property when he came to UNLV after seven seasons as an assistant for John Calipari at Massachusetts, where Bayno also played.

At 32, he was the youngest head coach at the NCAA Division I level. He was also single, attractive, already addicted to alcohol and entering an especially risky environment for someone with a debilitating vice.

Bayno says he had alcoholic parents and his own drinking problems started early in life, but he managed to live with the disease because he was a functioning, "happy drunk."

On the surface, he performed well at UNLV, where his teams were 94-64, won two conference regular-season championships, two conference tournament titles, made two NCAA tournament appearances and two trips to the National Invitation Tournament.

However, in the off-season, Bayno says, his drinking "got out of control."

"I always worked really, really hard. But when I had that first beer, then it was the same there. I partied really hard. I played hard. It was hard to manage. When you are younger, you can fool people for a little while."

After UNLV fired him, Bayno bounced around basketball's minor leagues, coaching in the American Basketball Assn., a pro league in the Philippines, the Continental Basketball Assn. and in Puerto Rico.

His big break occurred when Kevin Pritchard, the director of player personnel for the Portland Trail Blazers, asked Bayno to coach the organization's summer league team in 2004.

"He's a basketball junkie, always in the gym," Pritchard says of Bayno, with whom he became friends during the late 1980s -- Bayno was an assistant on Larry Brown's staff at Kansas and Pritchard was point guard of the Jayhawks' 1988 national championship team. "He's got that special quality of getting players to work in the gym and improve.

"He likes developing players and he does it as well as anybody in the country."

The last two years, Bayno was an assistant coach for the Trail Blazers after spending two years as a scout.

Then the Loyola Marymount opening came to his attention.

Bill Husak, LMU's athletic director, says Bayno was brutally honest about his past during an initial interview, prompting a thorough background check by the school that included discussions with officials from the NCAA and UNLV.

"Everyone was just so candid about Bill turning a corner in his life and what happened to him professionally at UNLV," Husak said. "We really felt it wasn't a risk at all . . .

"And indeed, if a place like LMU can't give someone a second chance, then what place can?"

Loyola Marymount's last NCAA tournament appearance came in 1990, and ever since then its program has been struggling to recapture the glory days of coach Paul Westhead and former star players Bo Kimble and the late Hank Gathers.

Last season under coach Rodney Tention, the Lions were 5-27 overall, 2-12 and last in the West Coast Conference.

Bayno says he's looking forward to finding out just how good he can be when coaching is the entire focus of his concentration.

"I'm excited because I'm 10 times the coach I was," he says. "I've got my issues under control, and I'm really looking forward to doing this at 100%.

"We were able to win at UNLV and I was probably at 60% capacity because of the drinking in the off-season, because of the lifestyle."

Former UNLV forward Kaspars Kambala, who played for the Rebels from 1997 to 2001, recalls Bayno "really cared about his players."

"The concept of being a family as a team, working hard and working together, was very important to him," says Kambala, who starred in the Euro League before becoming a heavyweight boxer.

"It didn't matter whether it was the best player or 12th player on the team," Kambala added. "He had fresh concepts about basketball and could relate to the players."

At Loyola Marymount, Bayno's first order of business was to recruit better players, and he believes he can achieve success with a mix of four-year transfers, international students and high school sleepers. He has already signed Los Angeles Fremont High star Laron Armstead, recruited transfers Larry Davis from Seton Hall and Drew Viney from Oregon and has been recruiting in Spain and Argentina.

Bayno is encouraged by Husak's commitment to upgrading the facilities, which should also help recruiting.

Among Bayno's reasons for optimism are the university's construction of new coaches offices, a new 4,000-square-foot training facility with new locker rooms for all sports, and the planned expansion of an academic center.

"I think LMU is a sleeping giant," Bayno says. "The commitment to winning here is bigger and better than it has ever been. I just think it's time that we can do something special here."