This week in Villanova History … March 20, 1987

By Michelle Shanahan ’87

As students returned from Spring Break, they were confronted with the aftermath of the 17-page article appearing in the March 16 issue of Sports Illustrated, in which Gary McLain, the point guard for the 1985 NCAA championship Villanova men’s basketball team, admitted using cocaine while at Villanova.

Administrators, faculty and students expressed varied reactions to McLain’s admission. Outside of the immediate Villanova community, Radnor Township Police and the Delaware County District Attorney’s office geared up for an investigation of drug use at Villanova.

In a cover story for which he was reportedly paid $40,000, according to Radnor Township Police Chief Maurice Hennessy and other sources, McLain admitted extensive drug use both on and off the basketball court and an eventual drug addiction.

The story began, “I was standing in the Rose Garden, wired on cocaine. Nothing new about my being that way. I’d been high a lot during my college days at Villanova.”

McLain proceeded to describe his drug exploits, which began with smoking marijuana in high school and led to snorting and freebasing cocaine in college.

McLain reported that he used cocaine before basketball games, including the game against Memphis State University in the Final Four at Lexington, Ky., in which he scored nine points. Several days later, according to his story, he was high on cocaine as the Villanova championship team met with President Ronald Reagan at the White House.

Beyond his cocaine use, McLain admitted in the article that he sold cocaine at Villanova. He wrote, “So we – me and this other guy – started selling right before the [1983-84] season started.”

McLain also implied that other students and basketball players were involved with drugs. He stated, “Some of my teammates and guys in my dorm knew I did drugs. Some of them did drugs with me. It was no big deal to us.”

Rumors about McLain’s drug use spread and eventually reached the head coach of the men’s basketball team, Roland V. Massimino, and the Rev. John P. Stack, O.S.A., dean of students, who both confronted him.

McLain’s article inferred that Massimino and Stack merely used threats with no actual intentions of action against him. He said “I figured that he [Massimino] had too much to lose. After all, I was the star point guard.”

Concerning his confrontation with Stack, McLain wrote, “I don’t think he believed my denial. I was just lucky I wasn’t doing any drugs when he came to my room unexpectedly.”

After McLain’s graduation from Villanvoa in 1985, his drug addiction was discovered. He worked at a Wall Street firm until he was fired for forging a coworker’s check and various company vouchers that helped him support his drug habit.

McLain entered drug rehabilitation at the White Deer Treatment Center in Allenwood, Pa.

Now in the second week since the first leaks of the story, the office of the director of athletics stated that they “want to put the whole issue to rest.”

Last week a press conference was held with the Rev. John M. Driscoll, O.S.A., University president, Massimino and Stack.

Driscoll termed the story “a matter very close to all of us.” He stated, “The outcome of that journey [to Lexington in the championship game] was for us unforgettable and that coach and that team and that player, Gary McLain, captured our hearts in a way that no other Villanova coach or team or player has done in living memory.

Gary McLain should know that he is still in firm possession of those hearts. They’re filled with sadness… compassion… hope,” Driscoll said.

Regarding the implications in McLain’s article that Massimino, Stack and others failed to act upon their knowledge of McLain’s drug use, Driscoll completely dismissed them, calling Massimino’s and Stack’s conduct “commendable.”

Massimino defended himself, stating that neither he nor his staff knew that McLain had used cocaine. He said, “I had him in my office and questioned him several times… I did approach Gary McLain, but he vehemently denied this. He vehemently said, ‘No way, Coach,’ and that’s all I could go by.”

Massimino emphasized that had he known of McLain’s drug use, McLain would have been released from the basketball program.

“This is a very, very sorry thing for me and I know that I can sleep at night because I’ve done the right thing,” Massimino concluded.

Stack said this week, “He [McLain] would have been out of here in a minute if we found out.”

Students reported that they had heard many rumors about McLain at the time when he was a student. A junior English major stated, “Everyone knew that his nickname was ‘Snowman.’ You hear so much about sports and drugs that it’s not surprising.”

A senior history major remarked, “It was no secret… I had a couple of friends who lived on his floor. You just open your eyes and you see everything.”

Concerns were voiced regarding the damage McLain’s story might inflict on Villanova’s image. Sean Carroll, a junior astronomy major, said, “I’m sure that in the eyes of the outside world we look worse now, not only because of McLain’s drug use, but because of the contradictory statements from Massimino and McLain.”

Stack, however, stated that judging from the Philadelphia press, Villanova’s image “has not proven negative.”

“It’s unfortunate, I feel bad for him, but I think the school will be okay,” he said. “It [drugs] is a problem that has to do with college students, not Villanova.”

Because of the article, Radnor Township Police have begun an investigation of drug use at Villanova, according to Hennessy. Two detectives have already begun speaking with administrators.

The reason for this investigation, Hennessy said, is “people have asked what we’re doing about this, because of all that McLain said.”

Hennessy further stated, “I don’t believe his story. I think he gave a $40,000 story. He’s admitted lying, cheating and stealing before… but I don’t question that he used drugs [to a certain extent].”