GEORGETOWN — To start an interview, you ask Noah Cottrill to describe his life's journey. An expression of self-awareness appears on his face. He seems to be asking himself: Where to start? His long exhale can easily be heard.
Cottrill is 22.
"It's been a long one," he said of what led to becoming the starting point guard for Georgetown College. "Long, tough journey."
Cottrill was once a basketball prospect who drew recruiting interest from Kentucky and Louisville. He committed to Florida as a ninth-grader. As part of an exhibition game against Kentucky on Sunday, he will play in Rupp Arena. It's the kind of setting he once seemed destined for, not Georgetown's Davis-Reid Alumni Gym, which has seven rows of wooden bleachers on three sides of its court, and 11 rows across from the benches.
"I am an addict," he said before Georgetown's practice Wednesday. "And I'll be an addict for the rest of my life."
He's been hailed as the top high school prospect in West Viginia, the heir apparent to O.J. Mayo. A basketball celebrity while still in puberty. "At the highest of highs," Cottrill said. "Not being able to go anywhere without being recognized."
After leaving West Virginia University in the first semester of his freshman year, Cottrill entered a drug rehabilitation facility in Michigan. The player who led Logan High School to the 2010 West Virginia Class AAA state championship found himself "restricted in a room with no TV, no cellphone," he said. "With your blanket. With a book to read. For 30 days. And talking to people that you don't think you should be in a place with."
He's called his journey a "great process of humbling." It's not a trip he talks much about publicly. He does so now because, he says, his example might help the next Noah Cottrill or, maybe, some anonymous someone tempted to take drugs.
"Early in my recovery, I'd never thought I'd do this," he told the interviewer. "Man, I want to hide in my shell and never tell anybody what I did. Now, I think it will really educate people. How scary, and how real it really is."
Cottrill said he began using pain killers to deal with physical and emotional pain. At first, the pills helped him continue playing in games. Gradually, he needed more pills to get the same relief. He also found more reasons to want relief.
"I was taking Oxycontin, five or six a day," he said. "When I'd wake up. Before practice. After practice because I was sore. Then at bedtime. 'It'll help me sleep.'
"I hit rock bottom when I'd be talking to someone, and totally fall asleep."
About four years ago, Cottrill broke one of the sesamoid bones in his left foot. More pain came prior to his high school senior year when he was involved in a car wreck that required more than 90 stitches to bind his wounds.
By then, Cottrill was hailed as a basketball savant. Easily a top 100 national prospect and the No. 1 player in West Virginia.
"So, I felt a lot of pressure that I had to perform every game ...," he said. "I don't think I should have felt that, but I did. Everybody was watching me, so I was so scared to mess up. I just wanted to play to the best of my potential, so I started relying on (drugs). It became a habit, I guess."
Cottrill said he took lortab, hydrocodone, percocet and oxycodone.
"All of it," he said. "It's a gradual escalation."
More than once, Cottrill noted that his drug use was "all doctor prescribed."
If a prescription expired, "I went to a different doctor to try to get more," he said. "It just escalated and escalated."
Rivals rated Cottrill as the No. 82 prospect in the high school class of 2010. ESPN pegged him at No. 73. Scout.com put Cottrill at No. 61, one spot ahead of Shabazz Napier, the player who would lead Connecticut to a victory over Kentucky in the national championship game last spring.
"Yeah, I was aware," Cottrill said of this then-and-now contrast. "I wish, knowing the opportunities I could have had, the schools I was recruited to, you know, the coaches who tried to help me, I wish I knew then what I know now.
"But when you're that young, and you're immature, and you're in active addiction, which clouds everything, you just don't realize the opportunity that's in front of you."
Then-Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie took a recruiting interest in Cottrill.
Cottrill committed to Florida. "My grandpa lived in Melbourne (Fla.), he said. "I wanted to go to Florida. I really did."
He decommitted when Billy Donovan announced he was leaving Gainesville to coach the Orlando Magic.
On a visit to West Virginia, Cottrill felt a bond with Bob Huggins. He committed to WVU.
But in October of his freshman year, Cottrill was suspended for what Huggins called "conduct unbecoming of a Mountaineer."
Looking back, Cottrill said he was using drugs and associating with the wrong people.
"He gave me so many opportunities," Cottrill said of Huggins. "Man, a lot."
Huggins offered to try to help Cottrill with addiction. The player declined the offer and decided he would transfer to Central Florida. He never made it. Instead, he went into rehab.
"I took two years off basketball when I did not touch a ball ...," Cottrill said. "I wouldn't touch a ball, on purpose, and I don't know why. I don't know if I blamed the game for causing me to use."
In 2012-13, Cottrill played again, this time for West Virginia Wesleyan, an NAIA school in Buckhannon, W.Va. He averaged 12.9 points. He scored 31 in a game against Notre Dame and was named to the West Virginia Conference's All-Freshman Team.
But by the end of the school year, Cottrill was again looking for a new school.
"Georgetown is a place for second chances," Georgetown Coach Chris Briggs said. "He's really making the most of it. I'm proud as hell of him."
Cottrill, a 6-foot-3 guard, averaged 13.5 points and 2.5 assists last season for Georgetown. He made 39 percent of his three-point shots.
In Georgetown's first three games this season, Cottrill averaged 24.7 points and made eight of 20 three-point shots. He had 14 assists and only four turnovers.
On the College Avenue outside wall of Davis-Reid Alumni Gym, there are signs that tout Georgetown's Champions of Character program. The words "character" and "commitment" adorn the door the players use to enter the building.
Cottrill said he's been sober since Dec. 7, 2011. "Almost three years," he noted.