Bland said he accepted only $2,100 from Dawkins, a friend for about a decade who told him to enjoy a night out in Las Vegas as a thanks for meeting with the financial adviser. He said, though, that he had little choice but to accept the plea deal because, if his case went to trial, it would be lumped in 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 that he had much to offer, but a few decades ago, the game is what carried him from South Los Angeles to Westchester High, the powerhouse public school that’s just around the bend from St. Bernard. A state championship helped earn him a scholarship to Syracuse and San Diego State.
Bland felt at home in those same Los Angeles gyms when he returned to recruit one of the nation’s most fertile talent grounds, first as an assistant at San Diego State and then at U.S.C. 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 had spent most of her career working for a sports agency. “And I think Tony likes the idea of building something.”
The opportunity to coach has meant something for Bland, too. He has not given up hope of returning to the college game and one day being a head coach. “The people in college basketball understand my situation,” he said, later adding that his former boss at U.S.C., Andy Enfield, remains one of his biggest supporters. (Enfield is recruiting one of Bland’s best players, Tyler Rolison, a junior guard.)
But he also knows there is more to the equation. A college coach is going to have to sell his athletic director on hiring Bland, and the athletic director will have to explain it to the university president. And so, with two more years left on his show-cause penalty, Bland said he knew better than to look too far down the road — or even across town.
“This right here,” Bland said Tuesday night, sitting on the bleachers of a nearly empty gym, “has been helping to rehabilitate my soul.”