John Lucas saw Tyrann Mathieu's potential

TEMPE, Ariz. -- John Lucas knows when he's staring at himself.

He was an All-American basketball player at the University of Maryland, the top overall pick in the 1976 NBA draft. He'd been there. He experienced the fame and fortunes of being a star athlete. He also experienced a fast slide from that peak because of cocaine and alcohol.

That's why he wanted to help Cardinals rookie Tyrann Mathieu after he got into trouble at LSU.

In Mathieu, Lucas saw talent, athleticism and ability. He also saw a history of marijuana use that cost Mathieu a scholarship, an education and his freedom for a night.

Lucas texted Mathieu's father, Tyrone, shortly after the safety was dismissed from LSU's football team on Aug. 10, 2012, for failing multiple drug tests. The former NBA coach runs a rehab program in Houston and wanted to make himself available. Tyrann Mathieu could learn from some of the mistakes Lucas made.

Mathieu went to Texas for four weeks at Lucas' rehab center. Afterward, Mathieu went back to LSU as a student with Lucas' blessing. Two months later, Mathieu was arrested on charges of possession of marijuana.

“It's definitely a program that works if you work it,” Tyrone Mathieu said of Lucas' rehab center. “That's one thing you can't fool me on. I know that one too good. But it's up to the individual to accept it. I think Mr. John Lucas, he was another heaven-sent person at that time.”

Lucas wouldn't speculate as to whether Tyrann Mathieu's penchant for marijuana was a college phase or an addiction. He saw a young man with the talent to thrive in the NFL but he also saw a kid who needed guidance.

“When you're good at something, athletes know they're good,” Lucas said. “We expect to be treated differently. So no matter whatever you do and you do it well, it is amazing how athletes can beat their bodies up and be in the tremendous shape they're in.

“He likes to continue to challenge himself. They have to grow up as an adult athlete and then have to grow up as an adult, and that's hard.”

Lucas, who said Mathieu is as talented at basketball as football, was impressed with Mathieu's ability to handle a heavy workload. The two worked together until Mathieu's arrest. After that, Lucas said, they mutually agreed to part ways.

“That's what happens when we don't follow direction,” Lucas said. “We get hit again with something else. That didn't surprise me. I just said, 'I hope this time will be the last time.'"

But Lucas won't look ahead to tomorrow or a week from now or next season. For a man who's trying to conquer addiction, there's only one day the think about: the one he's living. It's too easy for people substance-abuse problems to fool themselves. And if they're that good at fooling themselves, Lucas said, imagine how good they are at fooling others.

Lucas wants Mathieu to succeed, not only for himself but for others. If Mathieu can do it, he figures, that gives hope. One way for Mathieu to stay on the straight and narrow is not to be tempted by the plans of those around him. Mathieu has a plan, but he'll only be successful if he accepts it, Lucas said.

Mathieu's choices at LSU led him to Lucas. They led Mathieu to a lifetime of questions. Will he slip up? Was the risk worth it? Can he rebuff temptation?

But after all those questions are answered, there's still one more remaining.

Is this Mathieu's last chance?

“The problem is when you have no more chances and your next chance is the one that costs you,” Lucas said. “It takes what it takes to get someone to understand.”

Midway through his rookie season in the NFL, Mathieu seems to understand.