For Bright, 'one bad semester'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

AMHERST, Mass. -- When Donta Bright found out that he had been among four University of Massachusetts players reported to be on academic probation, the junior forward got on the telephone and called his mother back in Baltimore.

"I wanted her to know what the situation was," Bright said Tuesday night before practice. "I said, 'Don't worry about me. I'm going to graduate. I just had one bad semester.' "

Said Patricia Bright: "He was really upset. He called me like three times that week. He said he should've done better. I didn't grill him. I kept telling him to do the best he could."

According to Massachusetts coach John Calipari, the report was most devastating to Bright, who sat out his freshman year after failing to meet NCAA academic standards while at Dunbar High.

"He's worked so hard," said Calipari. "I call it work capacity. Donta's work capacity both on the court and in study hall is amazing."

Not that Bright hasn't struggled in an environment that is far removed from the one in which he grew up, one in which he is still not totally comfortable. The story in the Boston Globe hasn't made things any easier.

"That goes to show you can't trust anyone," said Bright, aware of the speculation that a former academic counselor provided the in- formation for the Globe's story. "But I feel good about myself. I've had one bad semester since I've been here.

"That made me hungrier. When you have success like UMass has had, people try to bring you down. That's made me a better person. It's just like when I was a Prop 48. People were saying, 'He's another black athlete just here to play basketball.' It hurt me because I've worked so hard."

University of Massachusetts president Michael Hooker said that after meeting and spending time with Bright he has changed his mind about Prop 48 athletes. Hooker admitted that he held the same stereotype Bright was talking about.

"I'm absolutely convinced that the SAT is not an accurate reflection of their capabilities," Hooker said of players who fail to score 700 on the SAT or get a 2.0 in their academic core courses. "You talk to Donta and he's far more composed than most kids his age. He has winner written all over him. If there was ever a person for which the stereotype was unfair, it's Donta."

Bright apparently has not let the adverse publicity affect his game. He started the season with a career-high 24-point performance in his team's 104-80 demolition of then-top-ranked Arkansas, and comes into tomorrow's homecoming game against Maryland second behind Lou Roe in scoring at more than 16 points a game.

"I worked hard over the summer to better myself," said Bright, who, after attending summer school here, played with first cousin Keith Booth of Maryland and some other former Dunbar players in the Urban-Coalition League in Washington. "It showed in the Arkansas game."

Bright hopes to show it tomorrow at the Baltimore Arena. He played poorly, as did Booth, in last year's regular-season meeting with the Terrapins at a Christmas tournament in Springfield and then was limited by a torn ligament in his thumb during Maryland's 95-87 upset of the Minutemen in last season's NCAA tournament.

Asked if he heard about that game from Booth when he went home last summer, Bright said, "He wasn't talking no trash, but everyone else in the neighborhood was."

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