Allegany Community College is a haven for basketball players whose ascent to Division I stardom is delayed by a deficient Scholastic Aptitude Test score or grade-point average.
Allegany College was made for Jay Bias.
It puts him in a prosperous basketball program whose no-nonsense coach places as much emphasis on going to class as on burying a jump shot. It removes him from the distractions and pressures that dogged him in high school, when he was trying to be himself but people wouldn't let him.
"I study, play basketball and go to high school games," Bias said. "It's like I'm on vacation."
The brother of Len Bias, the former Maryland star who died of cocaine intoxication in 1986 two days after the Boston Celtics had selected him in the first round of the National Basketball Association draft, Jay was talking the other day in an office in Allegany's athletic department.
"I idolized my brother," Jay Bias said. "He's still my idol."
An Allegany freshman who has grown two inches, to 6-foot-7, since last summer, Bias averaged more than 17 points a game as the Trojans finished No. 8 in the final National Junior College Athletic Association poll.
However, Allegany was denied a fifth consecutive trip to the NJCAA National Tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., when it lost to Hagerstown, 87-86, in a regional tournament last weekend.
Soon, Bias will wrestle with whether he should return for his second year at Allegany and then transfer to a Division I school, or transfer now and sit out the mandatory year, leaving him with three more years of eligibility?
"The door is open," Bias said. "I'm going to sit down and discuss it with Coach."
Allegany Coach Bob Kirk says major Division I basketball schools are wooing Bias, including one from the Big East that wants Bias and teammate Antoine Jones as a package. Jones also is a freshman, but Kirk insists it isn't frustrating to lose a player after one year.
"They come here to get a better opportunity," Kirk said. "If they get an offer that satisfies them, they should go. I'm not going to stand in the way of a kid who has a chance to play three years instead of two at the Division I level before crowds of 30,000.
"Jay is a great athlete. He shoots really well, and it's surprising how much he has improved this year on defense and rebounding. He's a major player, a big-time player. He could start for a lot of Division I schools now."
One thing is certain: Bias will not go to Maryland. It is not that he holds the university responsible for his brother's death. But the pressure, as the brother of Len Bias, would be stifling.
"I couldn't see myself going to Maryland," Bias said. "Too much pressure on myself and my family. People would expect me to do things my brother did."
In 1986, Jay was a blossoming player at Northwestern High in Prince George's County, Md. He would go on to average 20 points as a junior, leading Northwestern to the Maryland Class AA championship. As a senior he averaged 26 points, but he fell short of the 700 SAT score required by the NCAA's Proposition 48.
"When my brother died, I got a chip on my shoulder," Bias said. "Nothing worse could happen. Since he was gone, I saw no reason to do what I was supposed to do. My attitude was, 'forget the world.'
"I found myself doing things I shouldn't have. I wouldn't do my schoolwork. Instead, I'd hang out -- at clubs, with friends. My mother and friends counseled me. I straightened up."
His mother, Lonise, had by then started to lecture all over the country, and as far away as Brazil, on self-destruction, including drugs, alcohol and violence.
"Ever since my brother died, her goal has been to help young people avoid what happened to him," Bias said.
Two dozen schools recruited Bias. Because he didn't meet Proposition 48 requirements, he would have been forced to sit out his first year at a four-year school. Bias wanted to play.
"I love basketball," he said. "It's my food. I have to have it."
It's like I'm an addict."
Kirk knew about Bias because he had recruited another Northwestern player, Clint Venable, now an Allegany sophomore, the year before.
"We low-keyed it," Kirk said. "We simply told him we were interested."
Majoring in telecommunications, Bias earned a 2.9 grade-point average the first semester. Kirk says he was impressed on a recent road trip when he glanced at a 20-minute newscast Bias rewrote from a newspaper, as instructed, on national and local news, sports and weather.