Matt Bouldin took in the Gonzaga-Memphis game from a courtside seat at the Spokane Arena – or pretty much the last place he expected to be the first Saturday in February.
His calendar instead showed a game 10 time zones away in Athens – his club team of Iraklis of Thessaloniki playing at Ilisiakos, with maybe a chance to move up in the standings of Greece’s A1 league, given that both of them are deadlocked at the bottom.
But Bouldin likely has at least the next month and a half to himself, due to circumstances that the former Zags standout acknowledged have “just blown me away.”
Two weeks ago, Iraklis announced that Bouldin had been suspended after testing positive for methylhexanime, a banned stimulant.
Doping bans in European basketball can be enforced for two years, although Bouldin has a hearing next week and said it’s probable that the term could be reduced to something in the neighborhood of three months – retroactive to the testing date back in December. That could leave him free to hook on with another European team for the last month of the regular season.
But at the moment he’s more concerned with his reputation.
“This was really unintentional,” Bouldin said before watching the Zags fall 62-58 to Memphis. “I would never do anything illegal and I had no idea this (substance) was illegal.
“I got it over the counter at GNC. It’s a supplement. I’d done it for a while, and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. I told my trainers over there I was taking it and they didn’t see anything wrong with it.
“It’s just a ridiculous situation.”
Bouldin wouldn’t identify the product, other than to liken it to a “vitamin pack” and to say that it was likely a thermogenic that triggered the positive test.
“But the thing is, I did blood work in the NBA (during summer league play),” he said. “I did every NCAA test you can do and passed everything, and I’d taken the same stuff. I wasn’t trying to gain an edge. It was just part of my daily routine.”
In basketball terms, this is a little like fouling out on a ticky-tack touch 35 feet from the basket. Except in this case, the story lives on pretty much forever – on Google or Yahoo or the aggregator of your choice. And the degrees of doping, the substances and circumstances, don’t seem to matter much to a general public numbed to both those caught by tests and the dubious high-profile denials of the Barry Bonds/Lance Armstrong axis.
“When you hear ‘fails a doping test’ you think steroids or something heavy,” Bouldin said. “Really, if you drink a Red Bull on the day of a test, you can be positive.
“That’s why I was so upset and disappointed. I didn’t want people to think I’d failed a test and it was narcotics or something, or steroids.”
Whatever embarrassment Bouldin feels at being caught in the testing net, it wasn’t likely to survive his return to Spokane. Zags have a way of cutting through that kind of thing, with barbs both well-aimed and lined in velvet.
“How can they think you’re taking drugs?” zinged Matt Santangelo, the former guard turned radio commentator. “You still can’t dunk.”
“Hey,” protested Bouldin, “I banged more times there than I did in college.”
In fact, despite Iraklis’ losing ways, Bouldin was beginning to look like the Gonzaga Bouldin. He’d averaged 13 points over his last six games, including 14 in a Jan. 22 loss to Panellinios. Monday after that weekend, the news came down.
“I remember that somebody said that one out of the four guys they’d tested (back in December) came back positive,” he said, “and I was feeling bad for everybody because that hurts. When it turned out it was me, I was just blown away.”
Bouldin and his agent Stu Lash opted against a test of the B sample, concluding there was little chance of it being different. If the mitigation hearing lessens the suspension, he has heard from enough other European teams to suggest he’d have a place to land in March. There had been reports of a release or trade from Iraklis even before the suspension. Beyond that, there’s the possibility of NBA camps in the summer – he had invitations to three last year before necessary surgery on his foot scuttled those.
“Everybody says this shouldn’t have an effect on my future,” he said, “but I hate the perception that anything I did was intentional. That’s just not me.”