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Published: Wednesday, 7/9/2003

Wendt there for UT players to confide in

The disappearance of Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy is one of life's troubling mysteries.

Here's hoping that Dennehy, who was last seen June 11, will show up safe and unharmed.

Facts in the case, however, point to an unhappy ending.

We don't know if Dennehy is the victim of foul play, if one of his college teammates is reponsible for his disappearance or, perhaps, tragically, his death.

What we do know is that Dennehy, by all accounts, is described as a likable young man and a decent ballplayer who was attempting to turn his life around upon transferring from New Mexico.

Baylor released a statement last week to the effect that Dennehy never told coach Dave Bliss or any member of Bliss' staff that Dennehy had received threats or was concerned for his safety.

“The head coach is always the last to know,” University of Toledo men's basketball coach Stan Joplin said yesterday.

“When I go by their apartments and dorms to talk to the players, they don't talk to me,” Joplin continued. “Players look at the head coach different.”

That said, Joplin believed his players might open up to someone less threatening than the head coach. So last season he enlisted the help of Toledo psychologist Robert Wendt, former chairman of UT's counseling department.

Wendt, a longtime participant in the university's mentoring program, was granted full access to Joplin's players. He spoke to them individually and as a group. He observed them during home games and on road trips. He even joined them during pre-game meals.

“I think it's critical to do something like this. Kids know what they say to me won't go back to the coach,” said Wendt.

“They're under so much pressure - academically, socially, and basketball-wise - they're going to get down, they're going to get angry. They need somebody to talk to.

“There were times [last year] when I stepped in and dealt with a situation the coaches didn't know about.”

Said Joplin, who expects Wendt to return for a second season: “Kids come in with a lot of different issues. He [Wendt] helps them deal with some of those issues.”

Joplin said coaches generally pay more attention to “underclassmen and kids at-risk [academically]. The good kids, you kind of leave them on their own. Good students take care of business.”

Dennehy - a 6-10 junior center in good academic standing who sat out last season as a transfer - fit into the latter category.

He apparently didn't feel comfortable sharing his off-court problems with his coaches, who were caught totally unaware when the story of Dennehy's disappearance broke.

“I think what happens after this is that everybody will try to pay more attention to their kids,” Joplin said. “But you can't watch a kid 24-7.”

Asked whether he would know if a player in his care was troubled as Dennehy was, Wendt responded: “Oh, I would hope so. They're comfortable discussing their personal lives and their basketball lives with me. In some respects, I'm probably a bit of a safety net.”



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