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The 24-year-old Williford transferred to Grand Canyon two seasons ago from Glendale Community College, where he broke several Arizona junior college scoring records. After a productive junior season, Williford averaged just 5.5 points a game last season. He blames his disappointing output on Bill Westphal.
"Bill told me I would be The Man as a senior, and that's what I was living for," Williford says. "He wouldn't give me a chance."
Andre Edwards, a junior from Los Angeles, is one of the "bad boy" players that the Grand Canyon administration was reportedly unhappy with. "Bill's problem was that we had twelve guys playing twelve minutes each," says the outgoing Edwards. "He tried to make everybody happy, and that didn't work. I was shooting with one eye on the basket and one eye on the bench."
Each of the players expects increased playing time next year. With practically the whole squad returning, however, that's highly unlikely. But the players are looking forward to life without Westphal.
"Off the court, he's a heck of a guy. But he didn't stick with us through thick and thin," says Williford. "He said in public that we were stupid. He only would give us negative reinforcement. It's hard to believe in yourself when he's always pulling you down."
"This is a big-name school on the NAIA level, and I was happy to be here," says Anthony Steward, Grand Canyon's leading scorer last season. "But it got crazy. Nobody knew where they stood with Bill. He didn't communicate."
Westphal says it was a white benchwarmer, not these black kids, who really had it in for him. Junior guard Mark Dyer apparently tipped the administration off about Westphal's $150 loan to Mike Johnson. Dyer was a scrub player who had scored only five points all season. Westphal kicked Dyer off the team in late January, during a tumultuous time in Grand Canyon's season.
Again, it all began with a disagreement over playing time.
"It's hard to figure," Westphal says. "We had given Mark a $1,000 scholarship so he could travel to the Hawaii tournament with us as a reward for being at practice every day. When we got back home, he started getting mouthy. Stuff like, `I'd be NAIA All-American anywhere else. Give me more time.' I was trying to focus on getting this team into gear. Finally, I told him to go shower and call it a year. He told me--probably out of frustration and immaturity--`I'll get you. I'll have you fired. You don't play me because I'm white.' I said, `I don't play you because you're no good.' And then he ran to the administration about how bad I was."
Dyer, naturally, has a different story:
"I never said anything about him not liking whites, or about getting him fired. That's ridiculous. People on the bench usually want to play a little bit more, and so did I. He never did give me a reason why he kicked me off. I'm pretty soft-spoken and I don't go around blaming others. But I think instead of blaming everyone else, Bill should look inside himself. He got himself fired."
The ambivalence some of Westphal's former team members feel toward him is shown by the reaction of Mike Johnson, the recipient of the $150 loan.
"It's hard for me to talk about this," he says. "My parents aren't rich, and I don't have any money. But it was against the rules and he probably shouldn't have done it."
Things were so bad, by the time Westphal was planning to discipline the players who had boozed it up in Kansas City, one of them told him, "Why are you gonna bother punishing us? You're gonna get fired anyway."
BILL WESTPHAL IS WEIGHING his options. He's a trim, lanky guy whose habitually worried expression clashes with his easy sense of humor. He tries to mask his bitterness with small jokes.
"Hmm, let's see," Westphal says. "Should I mow the lawn first, or should I go to my daughter's recital? Decisions, decisions."
He's wearing shorts and a tee shirt from the summer basketball camp he runs every year with his brother. Somewhat introverted by nature, Westphal is uncomfortable talking about all this. But his reputation has been "terribly dirtied," Westphal says, and he wants to set things straight.
"I look at last year as one of my better coaching jobs," he starts. A high school basketball star in the Los Angeles area, Westphal earned a scholarship in the early 1960s to the University of Southern California. His coach was Forrest Twogood, a veteran nearing retirement. Westphal and several other players became disgruntled with Twogood's coaching style.
"Some of us were thinking of trying to get Forest fired," Westphal says. "He had lost touch. But the older and wiser seniors said, `Let's think about this a minute,' and things calmed down."
He is able to smile about the obvious parallel between his time at USC and the turbulent past year at Grand Canyon.
"We had eight new players, and they all assumed they were going to start," he says. "Most of them had false expectations based on excessive opinions of themselves. These players didn't realize that I knew what they were going through."