Jeffrey Berokoff was touted as San Diego State's shooting guard of the future when he signed with the Aztecs during the early signing period in November 1997.
A 6-foot-3 all-county selection from Sonora High, Berokoff envisioned sunbathing at the beach, then sinking game-winning shots inside the 12,000-seat Cox Arena.
But after a couple of losing seasons and a coaching change, Berokoff, who has two seasons of Division I eligibility remaining, is searching for a new school and a new dream. Last week, he was released from the scholarship, which he now says he was too hasty in accepting.
"You can't live your life with regrets," Berokoff said. "But this is really hard. I went there because it was San Diego and I had a chance to play right away, and get a chance to build a program and start a winning tradition. That didn't happen."
Berokoff's situation isn't uncommon in major-college athletics. Most schools have policies against revoking a player's scholarship for performance reasons, but each year coaches across the nation weed out players--and free up scholarships--by painting a bleak picture for their future.
Berokoff heard from Aztec Coach Steve Fisher shortly after the season ended.
"He said I could stay, but that I wouldn't play that much," Berokoff said. "I'd be behind whoever they have."
Fisher, a career assistant, took over for Bill Frieder at Michigan before the 1989 NCAA tournament and led the Wolverines to the national championship. In eight seasons, Fisher's Michigan teams went 184-82 and 20-6 in the NCAA tournament.
But in his first year at San Diego State, the Aztecs lost their final 17 games and finished 5-23.
Berokoff could sense an impending housecleaning, and he was right. He is among five players not expected to return next season, Fisher said.
Fisher sees Berokoff as a hard-nosed kid who lost confidence in his jump shot.
"He was a great competitor," Fisher said. "He never feared for bodily harm when he was on the court. When the ball was loose out there, it was like a fumble in football.
"I never saw Jeff play in high school, but everyone said that one of his strong points was that he was a shooter. I think he struggled with that mentally. He was an erratic perimeter shooter. At times it looked like he would never miss, but that was more in practice than in the games."
Berokoff, as might be expected, saw things differently.
"We had two posts and we would throw the ball into them all the time," he said. "That was our offense, throw it into the post. I'm a shooter, a gunner, and [the new coaching staff] didn't adapt to our team. Instead, it was what they wanted us to do and it didn't work."
Fisher said he told Berokoff to forget about shooting off the dribble. Berokoff wanted to oblige, but he averaged only 11 minutes and 3.4 points as a reserve last season. His best game: 11 points in a 78-49 loss at New Mexico.
Berokoff made only 23 of 64 shots (36%) from the field last season.
At Sonora, Berokoff averaged 24 points and was among the county's best three-point shooters. Although schools were interested in Berokoff, he committed early.
"I signed during the early period because I wanted to relax during my senior year," he said. "I should have waited. I had a really good senior year, but I just wanted to get it out of the way and have fun."
But as a college freshman, he wasn't having as much fun, although he started the Aztecs' first 10 games, averaging 18 minutes. He finished the season averaging only four points and the Aztecs were 4-22 under former Coach Fred Trenkle.
"We had eight freshmen," Berokoff said. "I don't think the coaching staff handled us very well. We were all so young. Then Trenkle resigned and we got Fisher."
Fisher said he understands Berokoff's frustration--everyone wants to play--but he saw Berokoff as a role player.
Joe Mann, a 6-10 center from Poway, has also asked to be released from his scholarship. Mann said none of the five who are leaving had a chance to prove themselves.
"Some coaches really work on player relationships and others are all about winning," Mann said. "We were recruited by Coach Trenkle and promised a future here. We had all sorts of visions and then Coach Fisher comes in and he has his own idea of what he wanted to do and, unfortunately, it didn't include us."
Berokoff says he will study his playing options with a little more maturity this time around. He said before he takes a liking to any place, he wants to make sure that "the coach likes me."
"I can't live a life of regrets," he added. "It's just a really hard feeling right now. I want to go somewhere else where I can thrive."