HOUSTON—As he smoked marijuana in the streets of Miami, just a few blocks from the team hotel, Chane Behanan said he felt much like he did the night he helped Louisville win the 2013 NCAA title.
“Like no one could touch me,” Behanan said.
Not the Miami police, who could’ve arrested Behanan had they seen him taking tokes from a joint during that nighttime stroll in late December. Not coach Rick Pitino, who had suspended the 6’6” junior for a month in the fall because of his weed habit. And certainly not the University of Louisville and its silly random drug tests.
Behanan knew one was imminent after the team returned from its road trip to Miami, where it defeated Florida International. But he was hardly concerned.
“Even when I went in to give the (urine) sample, I didn’t worry,” Behanan said. “I thought I’d beat it. But then Coach P called me into his office before practice.”
Behanan pauses and shrugs his shoulders.
“And that was it,” he said.
Pitino informed Behanan on Dec. 30 that his latest positive drug test would be his last with the Louisville Cardinals. Athletic director Tom Jurich had instructed Pitino to dismiss the NBA prospect from the team. Pitino had been one of Behanan’s biggest supporters during tough times, but the coach told Behanan he was out of chances. He couldn’t fight for him anymore.
“I couldn’t be mad at anyone but myself,” Behanan told Bleacher Report last week. “They had given me opportunity after opportunity.
“I hate that it happened, all of the distractions and the pain that I caused. I hate that it had to come to that for me to realize how big of a problem it had become.”
Six weeks later and nearly 1,000 miles from Louisville, Ky., Behanan is wrapping up a scrimmage at a high school gym in Houston.
Among his teammates this day are Stevie Clark, who was booted from Oklahoma State’s squad less than a week earlier following his arrest for urinating out of a car window; and J-Mychal Reese, the former Texas A&M guard who was dismissed in January for “repeated violations of team rules.”
It’s college basketball’s Island of Misfit Toys, one-time stars trying to reshape their lives under the tutelage of ex-NBA player and head coach John Lucas. A former drug addict who has been sober for more than 25 years, Lucas runs a program that provides counseling for athletes and coaches battling substance abuse, anger issues and various other addictions.
When they’re not in therapy sessions, the players are in the gym, scrimmaging and going through drills while Lucas barks from the sidelines. One minute he’s cursing out Behanan and threatening him with his “whip” (a plastic jump rope), the next he’s giving him a good-natured ribbing.
“You didn’t do anything in that Final Four last year,” Lucas screams across the gym. “Your teammates wouldn’t even throw you the ball. They kept giving it to that white boy (Luke Hancock).”
Behanan smirks. He was named to the All-Final Four team after averaging 12.5 points and 10.5 rebounds during his two games on college basketball’s biggest stage, but he knows that’s irrelevant here.
There is no hero worship in Lucas’ gym, only tough love and brutal candor from a man who has been a godsend for Behanan.
Following his dismissal from Louisville’s team, Behanan thought about entering the NBA’s D-League before being steered toward Lucas in early January.
Realizing he was only 40 hours shy of earning his college degree, Lucas convinced Behanan to hold off on turning pro so he could spend one more year in college, honing his game at a different school while working toward his diploma.
“Everyone knows he’s going to be a pro,” Lucas said. “But the question became, ‘What’s this young man going to be doing at 35?’ He needs something besides basketball.”
Last month, after considering a handful of other schools, Behanan signed with Colorado State. The choice seemed fitting considering the Rams are coached by Larry Eustachy, who spent time at Lucas’ facility after issues with alcohol cost him his job at Iowa State in May of 2003. After receiving treatment, Eustachy resurrected his career a year later at Southern Miss and is now in his second season in Fort Collins.
“I have the utmost respect for Coach Eustachy and what he’s been through,” Behanan said. “He’s the perfect coach for me. We can relate to one another.”
Behanan is taking online courses through the university this spring so he can remain in Houston to work with Lucas. He’ll arrive on Colorado State’s campus this summer and will suit up for the Rams once the fall semester ends in December. Behanan has just one semester of eligibility remaining.
“Hopefully I can go there and share some of the wealth,” Behanan said. “They’ve already got some nice pieces. Now I can bring some of the things I learned at Louisville and we can expand from there.”
Still, as excited as he is about his future, Behanan knows he can’t fully move on until he addresses his past.
One of the first people to contact Chane Behanan after his dismissal at Louisville was his grandmother.
“Chane,” she told him, “I don’t understand. This isn’t like you.”
As a teenager, Behanan avoided the temptations and violence that infested his Cincinnati, Ohio, school and neighborhood. Seeking a better environment, he moved to Bowling Green, Ky., prior to his junior season. He said he never caused problems, mostly keeping to himself while focusing on basketball.
“I wasn’t going to let the streets get in the way and dictate whether I went to college,” Behanan said. “I was always a kid who separated himself from trouble. I didn’t go outside a lot. I didn’t go to parties and I didn’t drink or do drugs.
“That changed when I went to college.”
In his first season at Louisville, Behanan averaged 9.5 points and 7.5 rebounds for a team that reached the 2012 Final Four. The Cardinals lost to eventual champion Kentucky in the semifinals, but that hardly mattered when the team returned to campus.
Whether it meant signing autographs as they walked from class to class, skipping lines at crowded nightclubs or being ogled by the prettiest girls in the city, the Cardinals were treated like celebrities everywhere they went.
And it only enhanced the following year after Louisville won the NCAA title.
“There were parties every night,” Behanan said. “People were inviting us places all the time and trying to give us stuff. It was a good feeling. I had been to two straight Final Fours and won the Big East championship in the world famous Madison Square Garden. I didn’t think it got any better than that.”
Behanan’s ego swelled.
“I got caught up in it,” he said. “I let everything go to my head. I’m humble enough now to say that about myself.”
Behanan was close with his teammates—but he also had a separate set of friends away from the court. They were “locals,” Behanan said, just a group of guys he’d see on weekends that weren’t students or even regulars at Louisville’s basketball games.
The friends introduced Behanan to marijuana, and it wasn’t long before he was purchasing it from them on a regular basis.
Behanan said he began smoking weed regularly, often after a long practice or a tough, physical game—and almost always when he was alone. He didn’t want anyone to see him getting high.
Asked if he became addicted to the drug, Behanan said. “I would say so, yes. It’s hard to know for sure. But I definitely liked it.”
Behanan, though, said smoking marijuana never became a daily habit, that he only did it on occasion.
“It just seemed like every time I did it, I got caught,” he said. “I don’t know if it was a sign from God, warning me...I don’t know.”
In the days after his dismissal, Behanan said he spent countless hours contemplating where it all went wrong. He wondered if things would’ve been different had he chosen a school in a smaller city, a college town where temptations and bad influences weren’t as prevalent.
“I don’t want to say it happened because I was in Louisville,” Behanan said, “but it’s such a big city—and I knew everyone. Everywhere you went, there was something to get into. It was so easy.
“Still, everything that happened is on me. I don’t blame anyone but myself. I’m just ready to move on.”
Doing so, Behanan said, has been much easier thanks to the support of Pitino. The coach has continued to keep tabs on Behanan since his dismissal and has reminded him that he’ll always be considered a part of the Cardinals family.
“He’s a good person, a really good person,” Pitino said. “But there are a lot of good people who make mistakes.”
Behanan said he’ll never forget his final meeting with his former coach, who offered some touching words as he walked out of the room.
“Call me if you ever need anything,” Pitino told him. “I love you like a son.”
Chane Behanan arrived for a recent workout in Houston sporting a white Final Four T-shirt and a pair of green-and-white Colorado State shorts.
The outfit was both an ode to Behanan’s future and a reminder of his past.
Each has served as motivation during his time with Lucas, who said Behanan’s issues may extend beyond marijuana.
“He doesn’t need a drug counselor,” Lucas said. “He needs a life counselor. Does he have an addiction? I’m not sure yet. But it’s obvious that Chane was managing his own life and basically doing whatever he wanted to do.
“We’re getting him to focus on making better decisions.”
Behanan’s time in Houston has hardly been easy.
For the last six weeks he’s lived out of a hotel room at the Drury Inn, where Lucas picks him up at 6:30 each morning. The two usually spend the next few hours talking about their lives, often over breakfast or during a drive through the city.
They arrive at the gym around 8:30 for conditioning, shooting and ball-handling drills. Then comes a break before another workout follows at 12:30.
Lucas said Behanan struggled with the routine for the first few weeks. There were times when he had to go up to his room, open the door—Lucas has the key—and coax him out of bed.
“Why do we have to do this so early?” Behanan would say. “Do I really need this?”
Eventually, he adapted to the routine.
“This whole thing has been an eye-opener,” Behanan said. “It’s brought me back down to earth. I had an opportunity that a lot of people dream about and I flushed it down the drain. I’m not going to do it again.”
Lucas said he’s stressed the need for Behanan to surround himself with better people. He said some of the “friends” who have tried to help Behanan over the years have actually hurt him, albeit not intentionally.
“Guys like Chane, they think they’re living a pro life,” Lucas said, “but it’s really a $200 life. You have friends who send you a couple of dollars from time to time, you get free shoes from AAU teams...you have just enough money to make you think you have money, but you really don’t have any.
“It creates a false sense of entitlement.”
Behanan said he feels fortunate that Lucas has taken such a genuine interest in him.
“He said he knows himself when he sees himself,” Behanan said. “He’s one of the most real people I’ve ever met. He doesn’t bite his tongue. He’s been a father figure to me.”
If Behanan ever straightens out his life off the court, he’ll have a bright future on it. As good as he was at times for Louisville, Lucas said Behanan has a side to his game that he’s never shown.
When he’s not busy working on his moves down low, Behanan goes through drills with the guards at Lucas’ facility. He swished four three-pointers during a scrimmage last week and routinely beat people off the dribble from the perimeter.
“Right now NBA people think he’s an undersized 4 (power forward),” Lucas said. “But that’s because they haven’t seen him play the 3 (small forward). I describe him as a Larry Johnson clone. I’m not saying he’s Larry Johnson, but he’s in that mold.
“He’s so much better that I realized. I had no idea he had that side to his game. I don’t think anyone argues whether he can play. What people argue about is his credibility off the court and whether he’ll be a good citizen for a team.”
Behanan looks forward to answering those questions at Colorado State. He’s confident Eustachy and the NBA scouts who visit Fort Collins will discover what Pitino and Lucas have known all along.
"I messed up,” Behanan said, “but I’m not a bad person.”
Jason King covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR.