Tulane, UNO start up at adopted homes
University of New Orleans head coach Monte Towe is only now hearing the stories firsthand as he tries to gather his players at the University of Texas at Tyler, his team's adopted campus hundreds of miles away from home.
Tulane's Dave Dickerson is doing the same, but further south in the state of Texas, at Texas A&M in College Station. He's talking to his players face-to-face for the first time since Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast and left the region in ruins.
Players from UNO and Tulane started classes at their adoptive schools this week. Most UNO students started Wednesday, while a number of Tulane students start Thursday and Friday.
Both coaches said they are aware counseling will be needed. In some cases, it already has begun.
For UNO, not everyone has made it to Tyler -- and maybe not everyone will. Towe said Thursday that junior transfer Jeremie Davis, who is from Arcadia, La., wants no part of New Orleans. He's understandably traumatized.
According to Towe, Davis and junior transfer Wayne Williams rode out the hurricane on campus. Towe said they were then plucked from campus by a helicopter during the recovery effort and taken to a bridge on I-10.
"They were told buses were going to pick them up, but they were there for two days before finally someone did," Towe said. "I watched all of this and was hoping that none of my kids were involved, but we didn't know.
"Jeremie just told me he can't go back."
Towe said Williams is due to arrive in Tyler on Sunday. UNO senior Shawn Malloy originally hesitated about going to Tyler but opted to come, giving the Privateers 13 players, including one walk-on.
Kathy Keene, an assistant athletic director at UNO, orchestrated the move to Tyler. Her brother, Chris Bizot, is the men's tennis coach there, so when she evacuated to Tyler to be with him, she looked at the school as the perfect place for the men's and women's basketball teams to call home. (The baseball team is going to New Mexico State with other sports spread out at schools in Louisiana, including LSU, where a number of UNO administrators are currently based.)
Keene said Tyler agreed to waive out-of-state tuition so UNO, part of the Louisiana state system, can use the same scholarship money for its players. She said the students have been set up with ID cards and had money put into their accounts.
"We're holding up pretty good," said UNO sophomore Bo McCalebb, who averaged 22.6 points per game last season. "I wanted to stay with the team. I love coach, and so wherever he's going to go, I was going to go with him."
McCalebb confirmed what Towe told ESPN.com last week -- that people claiming to be representatives of schools and/or coaches did call his mother in Houston, where the family fled.
"I wasn't into that," McCalebb said of leaving. He said his family wants to return to New Orleans because "that's where I grew up."
Towe mentioned that the Privateers have four nonconference home games scheduled this season, including one with Tulane, but he has no idea where they will play those games. UNO athletic director Jim Miller said there is a hole in the roof of the school's Lakefront Arena, right above center court.
"We would have played 14 home games this season, the most since I've been there," said Towe, in his fifth season at UNO.
Dickerson isn't concerned with games right now.
"Our guys are on campus, our guys are registering for classes and we're nailing down housing and meals and then some time for counseling," Dickerson said. "The most important thing is to stabilize the program."
Dickerson said all of his Tulane players were in town by Thursday afternoon. His wife and 4-year-old son remained at his sister's house in South Carolina, but they were due to move to College Station for the fall semester, too. He said this is a time when the family needs to be together.
"My son keeps asking us everyday 'When are we going to go home?' And for a 4-year-old, it's hard to comprehend," said Dickerson, who is in his first year as a head coach after serving as an assistant at Maryland. "My wife has done an unbelievable job with him. But we want him in school to be around other kids. Eventually we'll get back to New Orleans."
Tulane has only two players from Louisiana, and everyone is accounted for (along with their immediate families). The only concern was Kory Castine's mother, a registered nurse who stayed behind and wasn't reachable for the first 48 hours after the storm. She is fine, though, and Castine, like every other player, is in College Station.
"I've grown about 50 years in the last 10 or 12 days," Dickerson said. "We're going to be a very positive face for the city of New Orleans."
Tulane was due to open the season Nov. 18, ironically against Loyola of New Orleans, an NAIA program that also is in flux regarding its season.
"Right now as a head basketball coach, I'm worried about our guys getting into classes and getting a meal plan and being able to cope with what they went through," said Dickerson, who added that only a few players were on campus when the hurricane hit (Dickerson said last week that he told his players to evacuate the day before the storm).
Like UNO, Dickerson said he expects his players to remain at their adoptive campus for the full fall semester. He said details of how things will be worked out with practice, office space, workouts and games will be determined at a later date. He said he spoke once to Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie, who has been extremely helpful.
"But I told him I don't want to impose on him," Dickerson said. "I don't want to be a distraction. We're very grateful to him and his staff. At the present time, the most important thing is for our guys to be in class. The answers [regarding games and such] will come. I have to step back a bit and embrace our players and coaching staff and know that we're OK, so we can go in the right direction."
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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