Ex-NC State star Chris Washburn hopes his story will help others

LostLettermen.com, the college sports site dedicated to former players, will regularly contribute "Where are they now?" stories to The Dagger. With the NBA draft on Thursday, here's a look back at onetime problem-child Chris Washburn:

Of all the NBA draft busts over the years, few have crashed more spectacularly than North Carolina State's Chris Washburn, the third overall pick of the 1986 draft.

Banned from the NBA for life in 1989 after a string of failed drug tests, Washburn spent the 1990s bouncing from one rehab facility to another and even wandering the streets homeless for a time. Now clean for the past decade, Washburn is working at a mortgage company in Dallas and finally talking about how he turned his life around.

"After 10 years, I feel as though I'm clear away from it," Washburn said. "It gives me a chance now to go back and maybe tell kids before they have to get into the situation like I was. I started with just a drink of a beer and it progressed all the way up to me losing, I would say at this point in time, about $100 million. (Hopefully) they learn something from that."

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A North Carolina high school phenom, Washburn arrived at N.C. State after scoring 420 on his SATs (400 of those were for spelling his name right). Having already been admitted to college, he blew off the test and finished in 22 minutes. He says he would have been done even sooner if he could have circled the answers instead of shading in the bubbles. Just seven games into his college career he was convicted of stealing a stereo from a fellow athlete's dorm room and suspended for the year. Washburn insisted it was a prank.

The 6-foot-11 big man exploded in his second season under coach Jim Valvano, despite smoking marijuana and drinking before games, which left him high in the first half and sleepy in the second. He cemented his draft status by lighting up that year's No. 1 pick, Brad Daugherty, for 26 points in an upset victory over No. 1 North Carolina.

Taken third overall by the Golden State Warriors in the '86 draft, Washburn didn't learn from the cautionary tale of Len Bias, who was picked one spot ahead of him and died the night after the draft of a cocaine overdose.

Just three months after his first game, Washburn was in rehab with a cocaine problem. Traded to the Atlanta Hawks in year two, he averaged just 2.0 points per game. Entering his third season in the league, he tested positive for drugs and was suspended for the entire 1988-89 season. When he tested positive again in June of 1989, it was the last straw: Washburn was banned from the NBA for life.

His trouble didn't end there. In 1991, Houston police arrested Washburn after they found a cocaine pipe in his apartment. He later served time in jail. With the NBA out of the picture and years of basketball left in his body, he played semi-pro ball and traveled overseas in the mid-'90s. But his drug problem persisted. He says he relapsed after each of his 12 visits to rehab. The problem? He estimates that after 10 of those trips, his drug dealer picked him up and they partied to celebrate his release.

He wound up homeless in Houston, eating out of trash cans and shoplifting to survive. His mother asked him to put his name and her address in his pocket so that the police would know where to send his body when he eventually wound up dead.

Then in June 2000, he finally had enough, swearing off drugs and alcohol because he was "sick and tired of being sick and tired."

Now 44 (he was born in 1966, despite being listed in '65), he says he's been clean of both for ten years. Washburn recently began speaking openly about his addiction because he's far enough removed from his mistakes to now possibly help others.

He continues to repair the damage to relationships that were rocked by his drug use, including the connection with his four sons.

"My relationship with [my two youngest sons] is closer than the relationship with my two oldest, but it's not a relationship that I would wish on anybody," Washburn said. "So there are still things I have to go back and clean the wreckage of my past some, as they say, but this something I can actually do because now the drug part is not stopping me from doing that."

One of his sons, Julian, is a 6-foot-7 forward rated in the Rivals 150. He's been recruited by Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma, among others, but the younger Washburn still doesn't know if he'll be playing college ball next season. The reason? In a twist of irony, the elder Washburn says Julian is waiting to find out whether he passed his SATs.

Jim Weber is the founder of LostLettermen.com, a historical college football and men's basketball site that links the sports' past to the present.

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