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Former NBA player Chris Herren talks to LI students about his battle with drugs

Chris Herren speaks to William Floyd High School students about his drug problems after he was drafted into the NBA. Videojournalist: Erin Geismar (Nov. 15, 2012)

William Floyd High School physical education teacher Michael Lacarrubba is used to seeing students rush toward the door after an assembly, but it’s typically to leave, not to follow the speaker out of the room for a few more words.

But the latter was the case Thursday afternoon, when Chris Herren, the former college basketball star and NBA player who was there to discuss his battle with drug addiction, left the room.

“You can tell he reached the students because of the response,” Lacarrubba said. “You could hear a pin drop in here.”

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Herren, 37, who played in the NBA for the Denver Nuggets and the Boston Celtics, spoke to 10th-grade students at William Floyd High School in Mastic Beach, where the national drug counseling organization Daytop hosts an on-site clinic.

Herren, who graduated from a Daytop rehabilitation program in 2008, is now an ambassador for the organization.

Herren, 37, grew up in Fall River, Mass., where he was a local sports legend. He went to Boston College on a basketball scholarship, which was revoked after he failed a drug test. Herren, who was written up in Sports Illustrated upon starting his season with Boston College, returned home to find his picture in the Boston Herald and The Boston Globe, with the headlines “What a Shame,” and “Cocaine,” he told the students.

Herren went on to describe a 14-year battle with drug addiction, which graduated from marijuana to cocaine to OxyContin to heroin. He has been arrested on felony drug possession charges, and overdosed twice. The last time, paramedics told him he was legally dead for 30 seconds.

After two seasons with the Denver Nuggets, Herren said he got the call he had always dreamed of. Rick Pitino, who coached the Boston Celtics, wanted him on his team.

“Since I was 4 years old, man,” said Herren, as he paced in front of the students in a dim high school auditorium. “I grew up in Boston, I wanted to be a Celtic.”

Before he knew it, Herren said he was ushered to Boston, given a jersey and put in front of hundreds of reporters for a news conference.

“I stood there and talked about how proud I was to be given that jersey, how happy I was to start playing for that team,” Herren said. “I lied during that whole press conference. I could care less about the Boston Celtics. The only thing I cared about was getting my 800 milligrams [of OxyContin].”

Herren’s addictions continued to interfere with his career. Though he eventually left the NBA because of an injury, he continued to play basketball in leagues abroad, and continued to smuggle or purchase drugs in every country he entered.

He was high for the birth of his first two children, and left a rehab facility to see the birth of his last child. He had been sober for 35 days, but left his family at the hospital to find his drug dealer and relapsed. That was rock bottom. After his wife, who he met in the seventh grade, told him to leave and not to come back, he returned to rehab and this time was successful. He has been sober since Aug. 1, 2008, and reunited with his family.

Now, Herren, who was the subject of the ESPN documentary “Unguarded,” tours the country with Daytop, talking to students about the choices he’s made and the regrets they’ve caused.

Anthony Romeo, 15, of Mastic Beach, said he thought it was one of the best assemblies the school has held. He said one of the more memorable anecdotes, was that throughout his career, Herren quit a professional team twice because it meant he would be without access to drugs.

“It was more of a firsthand experience,” Romeo said about why the talk was impactful. “He’s someone who actually represented the struggle, not just people who are paid to talk to us.”

Vantrell Nash, 17, of Mastic Beach, attended the presentation as a member of the high school’s basketball team. He said he found the talk “moving.”

Nash also said it was going to be a helpful lesson to his peers.

“People question it — they say I just want to know what it’s like,” he said. “Now they know, I shouldn’t.”

Tags: Mastic Beach

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