The comeback kid
On the NBA • Blazer assistant overcame addiction, revived his career
It's two hours until game time at the Rose Garden, and Joel Przybilla is getting pummeled by a man wearing arm pads more befitting a battling sumo wrestler.
Assistant coach Bill Bayno is working Przybilla over as the Trail Blazer center makes move after move to the basket.
Przybilla is smiling.
Bayno is sweating.
'It's fun coming to work every day,' Bayno says.
Bayno, 45, didn't know if he would get such an opportunity in the NBA. In December 2000, after 5 1/2 seasons as coach at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Bayno was fired - in part due to improprieties administered to recruit Lamar Odom, in part to a problem with alcohol.
Slowly, though, Bayno has earned his reputation back.
'If you get yourself right, you're going to have opportunities,' he says. 'I knew it would take some time. But what I cared more about was getting myself right.'
Billy Bayno was a gym rat - more appropriately, a playground denizen - growing up in Goshen, N.Y., an hour from New York City. But his youth basketball education came in nearby Newburgh.
'Newburgh was the rough inner city,' Bayno says. 'Even my black friends from Goshen wouldn't go in there. But there were guys who looked out for me. And for me to get good … by the time I was 8 or 9, I pretty much lived on the courts at Newburgh.'
His father, Joe Bayno, was his coach at Burke Catholic High, where Bill was a 6-3 all-county point guard. He played two years at the University of Massachusetts, then finished up as a standout at Division II Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.
After college, he realized that coaching was his thing, and he caught on as a graduate assistant for P.J. Carlesimo at Seton Hall in 1985-86, then with Larry Brown at Kansas the following season.
'To work for those two guys at a young age, it was like a dream,' Bayno says.
After graduating from Sacred Heart, Bayno had written 100 form letters to coaches throughout the country, asking for a chance to work as a grad assistant. Carlesimo - who had met Bayno working summer basketball camps - was the only one who responded with an offer.
'Billy wasn't much different than he is now,' says Carlesimo, now coach of the Seattle SuperSonics. 'Tons of enthusiasm, way above average knowledge of the game. He was very young, but coaching was something he always wanted to do, and you knew he'd be good.
'He had a good work ethic even then, and a lot of a confidence, which is a good thing, too. He understood the whole thing in those days - the college part, the relationship with the players.'
In two years at Kansas, Brown had Bayno, John Calipari, Bill Self and R.C. Buford as grad assistants, working with All-America forward Danny Manning and a savvy guard named Kevin Pritchard.
'All those kids had a passion to coach,' says the Hall of Fame-bound Brown, now executive vice president of the Philadelphia 76ers. 'I just loved being around them all.'
Bayno spent a year as an assistant at Charleston Southern, then joined Calipari as his No. 1 assistant when Calipari took over a floundering Massachusetts program. In seven years, 'we took one of the nation's 10 worst programs to one of the top 10,' Bayno says. 'I was a recruiter, and John could really coach.'
In 1995, Bayno was hired as coach of a UNLV program that had fallen light-years since Jerry Tarkanian's national championship club of 1990. The Rebels were on NCAA suspension due to violations during Tark's tenure. Billy Tubbs, Rick Majerus, Jerry Green and Herb Sendek were among the coaches who turned the job down.
Mark Warkentien - who had worked 11 years under Tarkanian and still had close ties to the UNLV administration - backed Bayno, who got the job at age 32.
'I pushed hard for him,' says Warkentien, now vice president of basketball operations with the Denver Nuggets, then director of scouting for the Blazers. 'The job Cal and Billy did at UMass was absolutely incredible. UMass had never been anything, and there was no rhyme nor reason for them to have turned it into a national program. Billy was Cal's right-hand man. There was a time when I was a pretty fair recruiter, but Billy was a recruiter's recruiter.'
Bayno says he knew it would be 'hard coaching (under the shadow of) Tark, and the NCAA was always going to be looking over your shoulder. But I was a novice, and I had nothing to lose.'
But Bayno did lose something - control of his life, and very nearly his career.
Highs and lows in Vegas
The youngest D-I coach in the land, Bayno was earning $600,000 a season, and riding high. He recruited Shawn Marion, Keon Clark and Tyrone Nesby, among others. His teams went 94-65, won four conference championships, made the postseason four times and reached the NCAA Tournament in 1998 and 2000.
'He did a good job raising the talent level, though he wasn't quite at Tarkanian's level,' says Steve Carp, who covered the Bayno era for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. 'And Billy made good progress as a coach during his time there. He was maturing, getting better.'
Trouble was, Bayno fit comfortably into the Vegas scene - a little too much so.
'He spent quite a bit of time in clubs,' Carp says. 'He didn't handle that part of his life as well. Once he was away from basketball, then he became just a regular, good-looking, single guy in Vegas with money. It was a toxic environment that can be dangerous if you can't handle it.'
Bayno says he was in no position to handle it.
'I come from a family of alcoholics, and I was one, too,' he says. 'My parents are alcoholics. Everyone in my family (he has three sisters) is. There are different levels of the disease. My youngest sister, Katie, has had it the worst. She has battled heroin addiction. It's hard. We all live and learn.
'Nobody worked harder than me, but in the offseason, nobody partied like I did. The disease got the best of me.'
In 2000, the Rebels were handed NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations in regard to Odom, who was determined to have received $5,600 in cash and improper benefits from a Las Vegas dentist and Rebel booster named David Chapman. Odom, now with the L.A. Lakers, received the benefits while enrolled in a summer class, awaiting admission to UNLV. He ultimately was denied admission and never played for the Rebels.
Hours after the NCAA barred UNLV from the 2000-01 postseason and levied a four-year sanction on a program already on probation from the Tarkanian violations, Bayno was fired.
'The school president (Carol Harter) had no choice,' Carp says. 'As a repeat violator within the five-year window, the program was subject to some harsher penalties if (the Rebel administration) wasn't proactive.'
Bayno's reflections more than seven years later are profound.
'I wouldn't trade my time there for anything in the world,' he says. 'I learned so much in those 5 1/2 years. It made me a better coach today. If I never become a head coach again, I can fall back on those experiences. I'm proud of what we did. I didn't get fired because of lack of wins. I had good kids. Never had a kid arrested. The Lamar Odom situation ended up costing me my job, but it was deeper than that.'
Bayno says his drinking was the underlying reason for his demise.
'My judgment was clouded during that time,' he says. 'I never drank during the season, but looking back, it's amazing I was able to do what I did with how I lived my life in the offseason. I'd never had one drink in my life. If I had one drink, I had 50.
'The hard part was, everyone would come visit me - former players, friends - and it's Vegas. I was young and single. When I was out partying, people would see me, so there would be rumors.
'If you come from alcoholism in your family … at some point I was going to have to go through that. There isn't an alcoholic walking on this planet who does not know he has a problem. When you're younger, the disease leads you to believe you can handle it. I couldn't.'
Ironically, Bayno says he had stopped drinking a year before he was fired - on Dec. 23, 1999. One drink with a friend 'turned into an all-night party,' he says. 'I called my mom and I broke down and started crying, because I couldn't control it. I made up my mind, I'm not going to give in. I just stopped, but I'm not sure (Rebel administrators) knew it.'
Bayno says he was aware something was going on between Chapman and Odom, but that most of it happened before the player was a Rebel-to-be.
'I knew they had a relationship, and I reported it to an assistant athletic director,' Bayno says. 'I went to (Chapman) multiple times and said, 'Look, you have to stay away from (Odom).' I told Lamar, 'There's nothing I can do, you have to leave, find another school.' He had to stay on campus to finish a class. He was under my watch for maybe three weeks. How much could (Chapman) have done for him in that time? He definitely helped Lamar when he was (in Las Vegas), but not under my watch. My point to the NCAA was, if I'd given Lamar anything, he'd have told them. I never gave him a dollar.'
Ultimately, the NCAA cleared Bayno of any wrongdoing, and he came to a $600,000 settlement with UNLV for the final two years on his contract.
'It would be easy for me to say I got screwed,' he says. 'Part of me felt like they should've stuck it out with me. I'd come a long way and turned things around in my personal life, and we had a great team. But I never blamed Carol Harter or Lamar. I told him I was the adult in that situation, and I should've handled it better.'
Falling off the wagon
Bayno spent a year coaching in the American Basketball Association, then put in a stint in the Philippines and found he hadn't quite exorcised himself of personal demons.
'I started drinking again,' he says. 'I went through a six-month period where I thought I could moderate and pick my spots - I'd drink maybe once a month. But I knew eventually it was going to get to me.'
On May 25, 2002, Bayno's close friend - former NFL running back Robert Smith - threw him a birthday party.
'My last drink was at his house,' Bayno says. 'I'd told myself I wasn't going to, but I realized I needed help.'
He consulted a counselor, who helped him through it. Going on six years later, Bill Bayno is dry.
He says any temptations to drink have faded.
'If you're an alcoholic, you know you can't drink socially,' he says.
Initially, what replaced alcohol in his life was motivation from a 'good-bad list' he carried on a notecard in his pocket: 'If I drink, here's what happens. If I don't drink, here's what happens.'
On the notecard were photos of his two children, both adopted during his four years living with a girlfriend in Las Vegas. They serve as an inspiration today for Bayno, a lifelong bachelor.
The oldest, Betty, is the girlfriend's birth child. The youngest, Semaj, was Betty's friend, the product of a broken home. After Bayno and the girlfriend broke up, he maintained a relationship with Betty and Semaj, and after he joined the Blazers as a scout in 2004, they began to visit on weekends and in the summer.
Betty, now 16, lived with Bayno in Portland for a year but has returned to live with her mother in Las Vegas. Semaj, 14, is in his second year living with Bayno in Portland. He will be a freshman at West Linn High next year and is a ballboy at Blazer games.
When the Blazers are on the road, Semaj is cared for by Bayno's fiance - Krystal Martos, a Gresham native he met in Los Angeles - or Blazer employee Beth Hancock.
Both of Bayno's children are black.
'My life growing up was heavily influenced by black people,' he says. 'I always wanted to give back to young black kids. I basically lived in the inner city. It's the best thing that ever happened to me. I wish more people could experience people from other races. It taught me to see the world through a different pair of glasses.'
Bayno oversees a nonprofit organization in New York called Hoops Express, which operates free summer basketball camps for minority youths and offers after-school programs and financial aid for college.
'Any place I've been, I've tried to help inner-city kids,' he says.
A home in Portland
After a year coaching in the Continental Basketball Association in Yakima, Wash., Bayno was hired by the Blazers as a scout. After his first year in that position, Portland's new GM - Pritchard - asked him to coach the Blazers' summer-league team. The next year, Nate McMillan added Bayno to his coaching staff.
'Kevin was able to take care of Billy, and that was pretty neat,' Brown says. 'It means a lot to me. So many times you get in a bad situation and there's not somebody there for you.'
Pritchard stresses it was no charity hire.
'I knew Bill would be a terrific addition for us,' he says. 'He's like our utility coach. He does everything. He's great at communicating, teaching, evaluating. He puts out a lot of small fires that happen every day. He's kind of a glue guy for our staff.
'Bill has gone through some tough times and cleaned up his life, and I was impressed with that. It shows discipline. He knew if he was going to keep that pace, there was no way he'd ever be an NBA or college coach again. When you love the game, that becomes the priority over everything else.'
Some day, Bayno hopes to be a head coach again. Maybe at the college level. Perhaps in the NBA.
But the important thing, he says, is he has control of his life. It doesn't get any better than that.