MINNEAPOLIS – It was 1984, the night before the biggest game of Bill Bayno’s college career, and the junior forward at Sacred Heart was sitting quietly in the hotel bar.
Suddenly, a drink was sent his way. Then another. Then another.
An assistant coach and a group of boosters with American International College – Sacred Heart’s opponent in the NCAA regional semifinal the next day – were at the bar as well, and they recognized the future All-American. A smile crept across Bayno’s face as the drinks kept coming.
“They were thinking, ‘Let’s get Bayno drunk,’ ” he said.
Everyone knew Bayno could play. He was a starter after transferring from UMass, a confident player who was a key to the Pioneers’ chances against future NBA player Mario Elie and AIC. What those boosters didn’t know was that Bayno could drink.
“I probably had seven or eight drinks and the next day we went out and won the game and I had a really good game because I was so used to doing that,” said Bayno, who had 13 points, eight rebounds and two steals in the 72-69, double-overtime victory. “I didn’t overdo it. A normal night for me was 20 or 30 drinks.”
Now an assistant with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Bayno has been sober for nearly 11 years. He had to go through the CBA, ABA and the Philippines to re-establish himself in the hoops community, and he’s spent that time also searching for more balance in a life that was sometimes consumed by the game.
When he transitioned to coaching, the alcohol helped him compensate for the anxiety and insomnia that plagued him while he obsessed over each game, each practice, each drill at UNLV. Losses gnawed at him and a bad practice would stay with him for days. That pent-up steam needed to be released some way.
“That was the first time I really confronted my alcoholism,” he said. “Who knows if I would have gotten sober if I hadn’t been put in that pressure cooker, which really made me look inside and say you know what you’ve got a problem. You’ve got to stop or you’re going to die.”
It all started to unravel in 1999, his last full season in Vegas. Bayno told himself he wasn’t going to drink during the season, but UNLV suffered a particularly difficult loss to Oklahoma State on Dec. 18. A holiday break started on Dec. 22, and Bayno was asked to join some buddies for a late lunch after some Christmas shopping.
“Boom, we’re at lunch, a couple beers, a couple glasses of wine and it turned into four in the morning, out all night,” he said. “I just woke up that morning ashamed and really broke down.”
It’s the first time he quit drinking. He was fired the next season after a UNLV booster was charged with giving money to Lamar Odom, but said he wasn’t able to stop drinking completely until May 25, 2002. It took him three years of wandering before he got a second chance from Trail Blazers executive and coach Kevin Pritchard, who was a point guard at Kansas when Bayno coached there.
The Blazers gig eventually opened up one more run at head coaching with Loyola Marymount in 2008, but the severe anxiety returned with the greater responsibility, and he left after just three games.
“People thought I fell off the wagon, but I didn’t,” he said. “The fact that I wasn’t drinking made me quit Loyola sooner than I would have otherwise. Without the booze, the insomnia was 10 times worse. And that led to anxiety. Head coaching was my trigger, but I never knew what it was.”
Portland brought him right back, and he stayed there until getting a four-year deal to join Rick Adelman in Minnesota in 2011.
Adelman said he thinks Bayno is ready.
“I think for sure if he can handle what was going on before, he’s got all the tools to be a head coach,” Adelman said. “He knows the game and has got great ideas. He works at it. There’s no doubt he could be a head coach if he wanted to be.”
Bayno is comfortable if that opportunity never materializes. Just the fact that he’s open to the idea again may show just how far he’s come.