Beyond accolades and addiction, Eddie Sutton prepares his final team Print
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Friday, 25 January 2008 14:58
NCAAB Headline News


 SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -Eddie Sutton has big plans for his life after basketball. He hopes to see an addiction treatment center installed in every university, rescuing students from gambling problems or the same alcohol dependency that he has fought.
The 71-year-old coach also plans to build a multisport recreation complex in Tulsa, where kids will learn about the dangers of drugs before they shoot hoops or strap on skates. In his spare time, Sutton plans to be a loving grandfather, an effective bank director and a peaceful retiree.
But first, he just wants Dior Lowhorn to pay attention to his footwork.
``That kid could be in the NBA if he's willing to do the work,'' Sutton says with a growl when the best player on his final basketball team turns the wrong way after grabbing a rebound in practice. ``I don't know if he is, but we're going to try to get it out of him.''
Sutton's first love has claimed him for one more winter, beating the pull of family, friends and all those worthy fundraising projects back home in Oklahoma. The final act of his half-century in basketball is playing out in a dilapidated gym he'd never visited a month ago, 1,700 miles away from every other important thing in his life.
The former coach at Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State improbably is in charge of the beleaguered program at the University of San Francisco, the school that once produced Bill Russell, K.C. Jones and Bill Cartwright. Sutton could stay on past this season if he wished, but insists he's finished after the season ends.
Sure, Sutton acknowledges he made this odd marriage mostly to pick up his 800th career victory. After a drunken-driving arrest curtailed his remarkable tenure at Oklahoma State two years ago, he's just one victory shy entering two weekend games for the Dons (5-13), who host Saint Mary's on Saturday night.
Yet a three-month assignment that was mostly about that big number has turned into something more for this inveterate problem-solver. Almost every day, he adds another item to a list of possible improvements for the Dons - both before and after he leaves.
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Sutton is 1-5 with the Dons, beating Portland last weekend to snap San Francisco's seven-game losing streak. He jokingly predicted San Francisco's trip to Gonzaga last Monday night would be ``a massacre,'' yet the Dons only lost 72-64.
Most everyone in the sport has been baffled both by Sutton's decision to take the job and the school's willingness to hire him for a short-term fix to a major problem. But those who haven't been around the San Francisco program - a perennial afterthought in the Bay Area sports scene, with facilities that couldn't match thousands of high schools around the nation - don't understand the imprimatur of Sutton's mere presence.
``His lessons aren't solely based on basketball,'' guard Danny Cavic said. ``He's trying to make us better as adults. He got here and started us on two-a-day practices, and it was like going back to the first time you picked up a ball. He's got so much passion for this game, and age doesn't make a difference in that.''
Sutton lives at a Holiday Inn near the San Francisco waterfront, and he caravans with his assistant coaches to campus every morning for 11-hour workdays followed by quick dinners at the city's innumerable fine restaurants. His passion for basketball still burns - but he's been surprised to realize how strongly he feels about his other pursuits as well.
When he isn't working in San Francisco, he's often on the phone, speaking to friends and business associates who want to know when he'll be done back from the West Coast to get back to work on fundraising. But Sutton also speaks regularly to a half-dozen Oklahoma college students who fell victim to gambling addictions.
``When I'm there, I meet with them, but I call them just to see if they're all right,'' Sutton said.
Their struggles, along with worries about his grandchildren's exposure to drugs in school, have fueled his desire to educate the public about the same struggles that made him a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
``There's more drinking and drugging than we've ever seen before,'' Sutton said. ``I'm committed to try to raise a significant sum of money for that.''
A few days after Sutton arrived in San Francisco, he decided he wouldn't return for another season. He missed his home and family - and perhaps he took a look at real estate prices in the city. So he elected to make himself a consultant for the program's future, starting a written list of improvements.
``There's some things that wouldn't cost a lot of money, but would make this program a lot more competitive than it is,'' Sutton said. ``I'm just trying to help them in whatever way I can, until I leave.''
 

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