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Timberwolves assistant Bill Bayno revives coaching career after long battle with alcoholism

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, do-everything kind of player who was a key to the Pioneers' chances against future NBA standout Mario Elie and AIC. What those boosters didn't know was that Bayno could also 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."

Bayno had normal nights like that through the rest of his playing career and they followed him into coaching. Somehow, he was always able to manage it. He worked under P.J. Carlesimo at Seton Hall and Larry Brown at Kansas, and helped John Calipari resurrect the program at UMass. It wasn't until he was a hot shot 32-year-old hired to get UNLV back on the national map that it really started to catch up to him.

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 a little more balance in a life that was sometimes consumed by the game.

"Going through the experiences I've gone through has helped me to continue to grow as a person and help find that peace," Bayno said. "That's what we're all looking for, peace of mind, and to be happy with who we are and where we are and our jobs."

Winning was never a problem for Bayno, as a player or a coach. Sacred Heart twice made it to the NCAA tournament and he was 94-64 with two regular season conference titles and two conference tournament titles in five seasons at UNLV. Dealing with the pressure of being the man in charge proved to be something entirely different.

He honed his game on the hard-scrabble streets of Newburgh, a crime-ridden community in upstate New York near his hometown of Goshen and said he once scored 53 points at Harlem's famed Rucker Park while he was hung over.

"It's something I always did," he said. "Sweat it out and play. Even at the park. We would drink at the park and play ball and just sweat it out."

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 from the inside out 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, who never played a game for the Rebels. Bayno sought counseling, 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.

"I knew a lot of people, but I also built up a reputation where people were probably afraid to hire me," Bayno said.

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. He's been a fresh face on a staff that has, for the most part, been together for a very long time. And a welcome one at that.

"He's very passionate and very much an idealist," Timberwolves president David Kahn said. "Those passions and idealism can lead to tension within yourself because you so want things to be perfect. He very much wants things to be perfect. He's figured out a way to manage and have a very productive career."

Five years after telling friends he would never be a head coach again following his exit from Loyola, his life feels more balanced. He meditates daily to deal with the stress and pores himself into charity work, particularly with friend George Frazier's nonprofit Hoops Express Inc., in Newburgh. He also helps take care of two children he adopted while he was in Vegas, Semaj and Betty, who are both grown now, and serves as a foster parent for Isaac Jenkins, whom he first met as an 8-year-old at a camp in Treviso, Italy, about 17 years ago.

"It's all over the world," Jenkins said. "I see it in Treviso or in Goshen, N.Y., or Vegas or wherever. There's so many things he does. He's an amazing person. I am the testimony. Everyday his phone rings. He's also trying to help out kids get into schools, play basketball. Nobody pays him to do it. He does it because he wants to do it."

Brandon Roy, who has known Bayno since 2006, has seen a transformation.

"He'd get so into, 'I'm failing,'" Roy said. "I think being here with coach Adelman helps him relax and understand that there's a bigger picture. You can't look at it day to day. You've got to look at this thing overall. ... You don't have to strangle yourself over this."

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.

"If we had a bad practice, I took it home with me," Bayno said. "If anything didn't go right, I internalized it. I took the blame for it. That led to the insomnia and that led to the anxiety. Just knowing that and being able to address it and deal with it, I'm holding out that possibility. I was good at being a head coach. I'd become better at it."

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Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter: http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

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