Drug bust shakes Gonzaga and Spokane

Updated: February 15, 2007, 2:34 AM ET
Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. -- First it was Gonzaga superstar Adam Morrison skipping his senior year to jump to the NBA. Now star forward Josh Heytvelt is busted for investigation of illegal drug possession.

Gonzaga, welcome to the real world of big-time sports.

Spokane, which adores the Zags, is reeling from last weekend's drug bust that knocked the wheels off what was already the shakiest Bulldogs' season in years.

Gonzaga officials, used to fawning press coverage during a decade in the college basketball limelight, say the arrests of Heytvelt and teammate Theo Davis last Saturday are something new.

"This is uncharted territory for us," athletic director Mike Roth, who has steered Gonzaga's rise to the elite ranks, said after Monday's loss to Santa Clara that ended the nation's longest home winning streak at 50 games.

The Zags are a big deal during the long winters in this Eastern Washington city. Every game in their 6,000-seat arena is sold out. Every game is televised. There is a local television show called "The Best Dog Gone Zags Show."

But for the first time since they reached national attention, the Zags are dealing with negative news involving a player.

Blogs and sports talk radio are awash with reaction. Some local wags are already calling the team the "Zig Zags," or "Ganjaga."

By most standards, Gonzaga (18-9, 8-3 West Coast Conference) is having a stellar season. The Zags beat No. 5 North Carolina, Texas and Washington, and are still in contention for the league title and an NCAA bid. No. 8 Memphis comes to town Saturday.

But Gonzaga has not lost 10 games in a season since the 1997-98 campaign. The team hasn't lost three WCC games in one season since 1999-2000. The Zags have spent most of the new century in the Top 25; now they're not getting a single vote.

Their string of eight consecutive trips to the NCAAs is in jeopardy.

Heytvelt, raised 100 miles south of here in Clarkston, was heavily recruited by schools who coveted his smooth moves and thunderous dunks. The 6-foot-11 forward was counted on to be an immediate star, but missed most of his freshman year with injuries.

This season he was second on the team with an average of 15.5 points per game, and led the Zags with 7.7 rebounds per game. He had 27 points and 22 rebounds against Pepperdine, but also had many games when he seemed to disappear from action for long periods.

Davis is a freshman who was hurt in the first practice of the season and has not played. He is redshirting this year.

Both players were suspended indefinitely after their arrests in the nearby college town of Cheney. They spent a night in jail and were released on their own recognizance.

The Zags have long had a squeaky clean image: the team of John Stockton, Dan Dickau and Ronny Turiaf. Morrison struck a rebel pose, but without a hint of scandal.

In fact, Heytvelt and Davis are the first Gonzaga basketball players in memory to be arrested.

Perhaps that is why reaction here has seemed a bit over the top, with one television station devoting the first 11 minutes of its Saturday evening newscast to the drug story.

Gonzaga, with 6,300 students, for a decade has been Spokane's most consistent link to the big time, thanks to its national rankings and NCAA tournament runs. The Zags brought ESPN Game Day to town. Players are celebrities, filming public service announcements and speaking in schools.

Coach Mark Few's rejections of big-time coaching offers warm the hearts of Spokanites, whose civic self-esteem is always challenged by being in the same state as hip Seattle.

The two players were stopped by Cheney police late Friday after officers noticed a tail light was out on Heytvelt's vehicle. Inside police found what they allege was marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms. The players were booked into jail for investigation of possession of a controlled substance.

Their lawyer, Dennis Thompson, did not return a telephone message Tuesday.

A survey of NCAA athletes in 2001 found that 28 percent said they'd smoked pot. In December, Notre Dame basketball player Kyle McAlarney was kicked out of school and won't be allowed to reapply until next season after police found marijuana in his car.

Roth said that in addition to any criminal proceedings, the players will have to go through a university process in which they will be treated no differently from other students.

"I can't predict if they will play this season," Roth said. "We are still waiting to gather more information."

Roth said the negative national attention is to be expected after years of positive press.

"It goes with the territory," he said.

Regardless of what happens, the rest of the team has already been punished, as they became the first Gonzaga squad since 2003 to lose a home game.

"Even without him that game was winnable," senior guard Derek Raivio, who suffered the first home loss of his career, said Monday night. "Of course, if we get Josh back that helps a lot."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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