For Bergan, the end marks new beginning

March 19, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

SACRAMENTO, CALIF — SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- He stood alone on the Arco Arena floor when it was over, making post-game plans with his deaf relatives in the stands, communicating through sign language.

Then Tracy Bergan walked toward the Loyola locker room, and his father, brother and uncle gathered for a picture in the near-empty arena, their backs facing the court.

The scoreboard won't be visible in the photograph, which is as it should be. History will show that Loyola's 81-55 loss to Arizona yesterday was a mere footnote in the remarkable saga of Tracy Bergan.

The point is, he made it to the NCAA tournament. Made it after withdrawing from Loyola two years ago. Made it after missing all of last season with academic problems. Made it after nearly getting kicked out for good in January.

"The school was ready to fire him, and if they had, they would have been justified," Loyola coach Skip Prosser said. "But to the school's credit, they gave him a chance."

And Bergan returned the favor, winning the MVP of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, leading the Greyhounds to their first NCAA appearance.

He was overmatched against Arizona's spectacular backcourt tandem of Khalid Reeves and Damon Stoudamire, but never mind his 6-for-18 shooting and six turnovers.

By the time the game was over, Prosser had already forgotten. He pulled aside his senior point guard in a hallway, and told him it was time to bury his past forever.

"This chapter in your life is over," Prosser told Bergan outside the Loyola locker room. "Now you've got to be sure you get your degree."

Prosser quotes from Robert Frost when talking about Bergan, invoking the famous line, "miles to go before I sleep." Four miles, to be exact. Four classes to complete before he can earn his degree.

Bergan is on target to graduate in December, and he will remain at Loyola as a graduate assistant coach under Prosser, if he keeps his academic end of the bargain.

It's dangerous to make predictions with Bergan, but now that his NCAA fantasy is over, he seems eager to confront the world.

"For the rest of my life, it's something I can tell my kids about," Bergan said, "but now . . . it's time to move on, get my degree and pursue my coaching career."

He'll never forget this experience. The turnaround from a 2-25 season. The wild run in the MAAC tournament. The nationally televised moment when he sat on the rim at the Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, N.Y., pumping his fists and howling in glee.

Not only was he the symbol of Loyola's remarkable season, but he also was the only hearing member of a family in which both parents, both sets of grandparents and his only brother were born deaf.

Sports Illustrated featured him before the season, USA Today after the MAAC tournament. Yesterday, he was the subject of a lengthy front-page story in the Sacramento Bee.

What a saga.

What a journey.

"It hasn't really dawned on me yet," Bergan said. "But to go from where I was, when I left school and went home, to the biggest thing a college student can go to. . . . "

"Once I get back home and see my good friends, it'll be nice just to share it with them. It's been great. I can't say enough about the exposure I've gotten. I've just enjoyed everything."

To think, he was placed on academic suspension as a freshman, and Loyola went 1-13 without him. To think, he withdrew two years ago, citing renewed academic troubles and personal problems.

Sports Illustrated alluded to a drinking binge, reporting that Bergan "drowned his sorrows in campus bars." Loyola allowed him back in January 1993, but not on scholarship.

Bergan paid his own way for one semester and through summer school, regaining his scholarship for his senior year. But even then, he couldn't put his troubles behind him.

Loyola suspended him for four games after he failed to complete course work at the end of last semester. That was the turning point. The point when he could have been expelled.

"This college was willing to take a chance on him," Loyola athletic director Joe Boylan said. "He repaid the college with his effort, his intensity, his leadership. Now, he has to repay himself, and get his degree."

As always, all Bergan must do is apply himself in the classroom the way he does on the court. One of his shots yesterday was an air ball. Two others barely hit the backboard. But he never quit, and neither did Loyola.

With 3:27 left, Bergan missed a layup, then paused for a moment under the basket, looking thoroughly defeated. But in the final minutes, with Loyola down by as many as 30 points, he hit a 15-footer and a three-pointer, and decked Reeves with a hard foul. He wound up leading Loyola with 17 points.

It was vintage Bergan, ignoring the odds, fighting to the finish. The trick now is for him to view the tournament not as an end, but as a beginning. Four more courses to his degree. Miles to go before he sleeps.

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