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ESPN wins

Walker Carey | Wednesday, October 26, 2011

In late July, ESPN announced it was going to air seven new documentaries as a result of its wildly successful and critically acclaimed 30 for 30 series that aired from Oct. 2009 through Dec. 2010.

While perusing the list of the new documentaries, one in particular caught my eye: Unguarded — the story of former collegiate and professional basketball player Chris Herren, which will air on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

Much like the story of baseball star Josh Hamilton, Herren’s is superbly captivating. As a high school standout at Durfee High in Fall River, Mass., Herren was the central figure of Bill Reynolds’ critically acclaimed 1995 book, “Fall River Dreams: A Team’s Quest for Glory, A Town’s Search for Its Soul.”

Following a senior season at Durfee that saw Herren named as Massachusetts Player of the Year and a McDonald’s All-American, the six-foot, three-inch combo guard chose to bring his game to nearby Boston College. His Eagle career did not last long, as he suffered a season-ending wrist injury in his collegiate debut.

The injury began a downward spiral that would last for more than a decade. Herren began partying harder and using cocaine. Due to academic problems and a failed drug test, Herren decided in April 1995 to transfer to Fresno State.

While playing for Jerry Tarkanian at Fresno State, the problems just increased. There was another failed drug test in 1997, which resulted in a three-week stay at a rehabilitation facility in Utah. There were allegations over a potential point shaving scandal in the same year. However, through it all, Herren remained a very talented player with NBA potential.

The Denver Nuggets selected Herren in the second round of the 1999 NBA Draft. It was while playing for Denver that Herren was introduced to the painkiller OxyContin, and he almost instantly became addicted. Herren was traded to Boston in late 2000, but only lasted until his release in October 2001.

After his oust in Boston, Herren became a journeyman overseas player, making stops in China, Germany, Italy and Turkey. All the while, he remained a full-on OxyContin addict. He began using heroin in 2004, and this new addiction led to two arrests — one in 2004 and one in 2008.

Following his second arrest, Herren entered an intense drug rehabilitation program in upstate New York where he stayed for nearly 11 months. His experience in rehab has helped him remain drug free since June 4, 2008.

Following his release from the program, Herren began making strides to turn around his life. He soon developed “Hoop Dreams with Chris Herren,” which is a basketball development clinic for players of all skill levels. Herren has also used his experiences in speaking engagements where he describes just how much drugs and alcohol adversely affected his career and his life.

I believe ESPN deserves a good deal of credit for airing this story, as it should serve as a cautionary tale for talented young athletes everywhere. Here’s to hoping that Herren will be able to remain clean and sober and continue to pass along his story to all those in need.

Contact Walker Carey at wcarey@nd.edu

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.