THE DON'S ARE BACK : Jim Brovelli, the Coach, Is Faced With Building a Program That Maintains Tradition of Winning While Ending Tradition of Cheating to Win

Times Staff Writer

What would Notre Dame be without football? Green Bay without the Packers?

That's easy. They'd be like Miami without the beach. Or Switzerland without the Alps. Who would know they even existed?

For that matter, what is it that really distinguishes UCLA from UC San Diego? St. John's from St. Mary's? Ohio State from Oberlin? It has little enough to do with academia--that much is clear. As much as anything else, it comes down to football and basketball. UCLA doesn't sell all those T-shirts because of its biology department.

Which brings us to the University of San Francisco. In terms of basketball, if not biology, USF liked to think of itself as the UCLA of the North.

Yet, not three years ago, on July 29, 1982, USF dropped its highly successful basketball program. Father John Lo Schiavo, president of the Jesuit university, said he could no longer tolerate the rules violations that had become standard practice at USF.

The school was on probation three times in seven years, and it was under scrutiny again when Lo Shiavo, who had promised to end the program if the cheating continued, stepped in. The basketball program had shot itself in the foot.

There was a slush fund. There were athletes being paid for summer jobs they didn't do. There were alumni out of control. There were coaches fired. There were recruiting violations.

"All the legitimate purposes of an athletic program in an educational institution are being distorted by the basketball program as it has developed," Father Lo Shiavo wrote at the time.

So the program was ended, and USF slipped into semi-oblivion. The big sports news on campus the last few years has been the soccer team. Enrollment, as at many private universities, began to slip. School spirit, said a USF women's basketball player, "was down the toilet."

What's USF without basketball? A place for scrapbooks where the two NCAA champions and the 60-game winning streak and the All-Americans could live on. Basketball success was, as much as anything else, the measure by which the school was defined. "It was basketball that made the campus a focus for students and alumni," said Father Bob Sunderland, the new athletic director.

Without basketball, USF was just another Jesuit school, but at least one with integrity.

Lo Shiavo got letters from Bob Knight, Dean Smith and Joe Paterno, among others, praising him for his courage. He stood up for what he believed, and he believed a university stood for more than fast breaks and slam dunks.

An era had ended.

Or so it seemed at the time.

On Friday, Nov. 22, 1985, at 7:30 p.m., those will not be the ghosts of San Francisco Dons past haunting Memorial Gym. That should be the real Bill Russell out there. And, if schedule permits, the real K.C. Jones. It's the 30th anniversary of the second NCAA championship basketball team at USF and they've come up with a pretty good way to celebrate the occasion.

They're bringing back as many of the old-timers as they can. Phil Woolpert, who coached the team, will be there. He has been nominated for the basketball Hall of Fame, and the USF people are hoping to have a double celebration.

To top it all off, USF will be playing its first basketball game, against St. Mary's of Minnesota, after a lapse of three seasons.

A new era begins. Basketball is back. It seems the university, which decided to return the program only a year after it was dropped, couldn't do without its fix of the bouncing ball.

The signs on campus are already saying, "The Tradition Continues." Actually, the tradition is resuming.

But resuming how?

And as what?

The answer to those questions will be supplied in the main by one Jim Brovelli, who will coach the Dons and who is responsible for shaping a program that must make everyone--the demanding alumni and the demanding school president--happy.

He must keep one tradition--winning. He must end another tradition--cheating to win.

"Father Lo Shiavo never said that basketball wouldn't return," Sunderland said. "He said it could return only under certain conditions. We have to have a program where we won't have to apologize to anyone for anything.

"We think Jim can do that. We think he can build a team you can relate with and a team that no one will be embarrassed by."

Brovelli, a star player for the Dons in the early '60s, was the obvious choice. He grew up in San Francisco, a fan of the Bill Russell-era Dons. It's a homecoming for Brovelli, whose mother still lives here. And he already knows all the Italian restaurants. Of course, he has other qualities.

By all accounts, he is honest. In his 11 years at the University of San Diego, Brovelli was best known for having players graduate, one year placing five players on his league's all-academic team. He took the team from Division II to Division I, and in 1983-84 coached an undermanned San Diego team to a West Coast Athletic Conference championship and into the NCAA tournament. USF didn't have to look far.

"I hate to be labeled Mr. Clean," Brovelli said in his office in the basement of Memorial Gym. "I don't want to separate myself from anyone else. I do want to show you can have success running a clean program.

"Previous to the problems, USF was a national power. There's no reason why it can't be done again."

Brovelli, 42, prematurely gray as coaches tend to be, is a man who inspires people to call him low-key. He is not a man given to bold pronouncements. He is not a drum beater, but he is a believer, a true-blue, gold-and-green believer in USF.

He thinks there's no better place in the world to play basketball than in old Memorial Gym, which can pack 6,000 people--if the fire laws are ignored--through its wooden doors and into its backless seats. He thinks that USF has a certain magic to it, a spell that can reshape the past.

"It was a risk coming here," he said. "I could have stayed in San Diego forever. But it was a unique opportunity to take a school with such a rich tradition and start over."

At the University of San Diego, he would have to explain to recruits: "No, not San Diego State. No, not UC San Diego."

At USF, he says, "Nobody thinks we're the University of South Florida."

The opportunity is there and so is the challenge. But it will have to be done right. There is some question, however, of what doing it right actually entails.

When Lo Shiavo agreed to reinstate the program, he denounced what he called a "Top 20 mentality," meaning the idea that you should win at any cost.

He set up some restrictions, reshaping the booster clubs to give the university more control. He said that the rivalries should be localized. Enough of traveling to the East Coast for a basketball game, taking the players away from their studies. He said the recruiting should be localized as well. No more trips to cities like Baltimore to find players like Quintin Dailey.

That's what he said. But Brovelli is saying that isn't quite what Lo Shiavo meant.

"We'll play teams in the East," Brovelli said. "If there is a player in the East who is sincerely interested in USF and who can help the program, I'll be on the next plane, but we're not going back there just to look for players.

"And I'm not putting any limits on how good this team can be. We can recruit locally and in Southern California and still be very, very good."

Coach Brovelli was off to a great start. The team had won its first five games and there was talk of going unbeaten.

And then the sixth game, an overtime loss.

Coach Nada Brovelli, Jim's wife, was not crushed. She was coaching her daughter's CYO team and just having fun.

"He wants to know what kind of offense I'm running," Nada said, laughing.

Jim Brovelli couldn't run an offense this season. He didn't have a team. He had recruited two players, one a transfer. He had one X and one O.

"We had a one-pass offense," he said. "The second pass went out of bounds."

By Nov. 22, he has to have an entire team. It may be rough at first, but Brovelli, who has a five-year contract, can hardly wait for the chance.

"I'm getting awfully itchy," he said. "It's the first time in over 25 years that I was out of basketball. I did watch a lot of games on ESPN, but it's not quite the same."

The player Brovelli recruited is Mike Franti, a freshman redshirt from Davis. He has to explain to the folks back home what he's doing these days.

"People don't know what happened to me," Franti said. "They're wondering why I'm not playing ball."

He grew up a USF fan, as many Northern Californians did. His hero was Bill Cartwright. He came to USF because of Brovelli and because of the chance to be at the starting point of a new day, he said.

It had better be a new day.

"There have been players here who had almost no contact with the university or the students," Brovelli once said.

"That will change," he says now.

Al Allesandri, USF vice president, says he's sure it will change, and only for the better.

"There were a lot of embarrassed people here," he said. "And we should have been embarrassed.

"But maybe there's a catharsis taking place. Maybe there's a point that has been made by the president so the coaches and players and alumni can understand it. Maybe there's a point being made that we follow the rules.

"We'll follow the rules or there will be no basketball."

That's the burden Brovelli carries, and he says he welcomes it.

"It's no burden. It's the way it's supposed to be done. It's the way I've always done it."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
57°