PISCATAWAY – It was standing room only as people lined the wall around the couple hundred seats that had been set up.
He stood there, white-knuckled while gripping the podium, telling his cautionary tale. It's a story he has told countless times.
Their eyes were locked on the once upon a time star. Their ears perked as they intently listened to his life story, hooked on every word like he once was on drugs.
As Chris Herren spoke of his fall from grace due to his drug addiction, Rutgers basketball team was transfixed, soaking up his message like sponges.
This wasn’t just anyone telling giving them an hour talk Sunday evening inside the Busch campus visiting center on about the pitfalls of drugs. It was someone who was once in thier basketball shoes.
Herren was once a college and NBA basketball player. He was destined for stardom had he not succumbed to substance abuse.
“It makes all our problems become miniscule,” junior forward Austin Johnson said. “It shows that we have it good — that we have it easy. So we need to take advantage of our situations and reap the benefits of where we’re at.”
Which is a receiving a free college education while playing the game they love.
No, Rutgers isn’t a program filled with players that get into off the court problems with drugs and alcohol. It’s far from it.
But they’re still college kids, and like every 18- to 22-year-old, they feel invincible. So a reminder of someone who’s been in their basketball shoes never hurts.
“When you’re at college you don’t really think about what you’re doing when it comes to drinking alcohol and using drugs like that, but you’re not untouchable,” Johnson said. “You do the wrong things, you put the wrong things in your body, something like that really could happen.”
Jerome Seagears — who’d seen ESPN’s 30 for 30 on Herren Unguarded several times — reiterated what Johnson said.
“It’s definitely good for our age and the things that we’re going through in life because you see a lot of parties with a lot of stuff going on and you don’t want to be a failure,” the freshman guard said. “So it’s like a reality check.”
A midseason reminder of what they have and how lucky they are to have it. And how one or two bad decisions strip all that away.
“I feel like that it puts it in perspective,” Johnson said. “We have to take advantage of the opportunity that we have right now and we have to be keen on what we put in our body and how we treat ourselves and the things that we have to do to be successful day in and day out.”
It's now almost two decades since Herren begrudginly sat in a similar lecture while some former drug addict tell his story. A message that fell on deaf teenage ears.
While Herren realizes there will be a few people out of the couple hundered in the room that will make the mistake he once did and not pay attention to his message, it clearly wasn't anyone in Rutgers' basketball program.