Bland said he only accepted $2,100 from Dawkins, a friend of about a decade who told him to enjoy a night out in Las Vegas as a thank you for meeting the financial adviser. He said, however, he had little choice but to accept the plea deal because, if his case went to trial, it would be consolidated with those of four other defendants. “It was a business decision,” said Bland, who said he was so traumatized by the arrest that he couldn’t sleep in a hotel room. “I had to protect my family.”
Bland, 42, said his wife urged him to think beyond basketball and reminded him he had a lot to offer, but a few decades ago the game was what got him. transported from South Los Angeles to Westchester High, the central public school which is just around the bend in the St. Bernard. A state championship earned him a scholarship to Syracuse and San Diego State.
Bland felt at home in those same Los Angeles gymnasiums when he returned to recruit one of the nation’s hottest talent pools, first as an assistant at San Diego State, then to USC. He volunteered at St. Bernard, then took over as coach before last season.
“We had a team, but he’s building a program,” said Jamie Mark, the athletic director, who has spent most of his career working for a sports agency. “And I think Tony likes the idea of building something.”
The coaching opportunity also meant something to Bland. He hasn’t given up hope of returning to college play and one day being a head coach. “People in college basketball understand my situation,” he said, later adding that his former boss at USC, Andy Enfield, remains one of his biggest supporters. (Enfield is signing one of Bland’s best players, Tyler Rolison, a junior guard.)
But he also knows there’s more to the equation. A college coach will have to convince his athletic director to hire Bland, and the athletic director will have to explain it to the president of the university. And so, with two more years on his show cause sentence, Bland said he knew better than to look too far down the road — or even across town.
“This here,” Bland said Tuesday night, sitting on the bleachers of a nearly empty gymnasium, “helped rehabilitate my soul.”