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Chane Behanan's wasted opportunity at Louisville a cautionary tale for young stars

Pat Forde
Yahoo Sports

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Louisville's Chane Behanan fields questions during NCAA college basketball media day. (AP)

The first time I saw Chane Behanan play was in an AAU event in July 2010.

Behanan, by far the best player on his team, seemed to have little use for his coach or teammates. During one timeout, while the team huddled on the court, he sat by himself in a chair near the end of the bench, looking the other way.

College coaches watching from courtside took notice of the attitude. They also took notice of what came shortly thereafter: Behanan stealing a pass and roaring downcourt to dunk the ball on an opponent’s head, like the McDonald’s All-American he would become in a few months.

“That’s why somebody is going to be willing to put up with him,” one suitably impressed coach said.

That somebody was Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who fended off Kentucky to get a commitment from Behanan in September 2010. Pitino put up with Behanan until Monday, when the coach announced that his troubled junior power forward had been dismissed from the team for violations of university policy.

Losing a guy who hung 15 points and 12 rebounds on Michigan in the national championship game is a major blow to the defending national champions. The Cardinals had issues in the paint even with Behanan, and now those will be amplified.

But Behanan is the one facing a true crisis stage. He’s not the first star athlete to botch the opportunity of a young lifetime, just the latest.

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Does Chane Behanan have the skill set to make it in the NBA? (USA Today)

The in-game attitude Behanan exhibited in AAU ball was never an issue at Louisville. He played hard and was a positive teammate. Basketball was never the problem.

It’s life outside the sport that Behanan has failed to handle like an adult.

Prior to the 2012-13 season, Pitino kept Behanan off-limits from the media and suspended him for the team’s exhibition opener against Pikeville. Prior to the current season, in mid-October, Pitino held a hasty and rather dramatic press conference to announce that Behanan was suspended indefinitely and may not play all season.

At the time, Pitino said Behanan definitely would not play in November. Maybe he’d be back in December, but the coach said he doubted even that time frame.

Then, citing 30 days of exemplary behavior, Pitino played Behanan Nov. 12 against Hofstra. He’d missed two exhibition games and one regular-season game. The college basketball world rolled its eyes.

Some coaches don’t bother to suspend anyone. Pitino isn’t that guy. But the brevity of the most recent Behanan suspension, after Pitino raised the possibility of an extended absence, might also have given the player reason to believe he was above serious punishment.

That changed Monday. Enough hitting the disciplinary snooze button; with no basketball to play, the wakeup call starts now for Chane Behanan.

The school has not said what rules Behanan violated. Pitino cited “medical laws” and HIPAA as privacy reasons for why nothing could be explained, which falls in line with schools’ standard approach to drug-testing results.

Louisville athletic spokesman Kenny Klein told Yahoo Sports on Monday the school conducts random drug testing of student-athletes in all sports multiple times every semester. If an athlete fails a drug test, he or she is subject to disciplinary measures and increased additional testing. Klein said it takes two-to-five working days for a drug-test result to come back after the sample is taken.

Pitino said at his press conference Monday that Behanan “was distracted in the Kentucky game, because he knew the hammer was about to fall." Behanan failed to score against the Wildcats, the first time he was shut out in a game since December of his freshman year.

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Chane Behanan hugs Rick Pitino after Louisville won the 2013 NCAA championship. (USA Today)

It’s worth noting that nobody has publicly stated that drugs are the reason for Behanan's dismissal. But nobody is going to state that, either.

Now we’ll see what happens next – to Louisville and to Chane Behanan. The Cardinals now seem an extreme long shot to defend their national title, but the greater concern is what happens to their problematic former power forward.

As an undersized four-man and an under-skilled three, his NBA future seems limited. He could probably play overseas and make a nice living for many years – but that’s also a harder cultural adjustment than most realize. Cashing a decent check in a place you don’t understand or embrace isn’t necessarily a great life.

This is why a full college scholarship – derided by so many these days as chump change – could be the greatest loss of all for Behanan. A degree can be a vital thing for a 6-foot-6, tweener power forward, because the next 50 years figure to be a lot more about real life than basketball life.

Somebody was indeed willing to put up with Chane Behanan. But not forever. Now it’s up to him to salvage something from an opportunity lost.

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