Another chance at stardom lost

Marvin Westwestwords

I so wanted to be a part of the new investigative group that will review the facts and hand down a ruling regarding Penny Hardaway’s recruitment of basketball superstar James Wiseman for Memphis University.


The Independent Accountability Resolutions Process, not exactly a long arm of the NCAA law, will almost certainly hear other violation cases, against Louisville, Kansas, North Carolina State, Auburn and LSU, all linked to FBI telephone taps that you thought had evaporated.

Alas, even with my hall-of-fame credentials, I was not chosen for this significant role. Joan Cronan was. The former UT women’s athletics director is part of the elite assembly of lawyers, administrators, judges, arbitrators and mediators who will hear and decide tough arguments. I am again on the outside looking in. It is humbling.

Among the burning issues in the Memphis case is whether Hardaway did or did not have an interest in the Tigers when he bought, oops, brought Wiseman from The Ensworth School in Nashville to Memphis East High School where Penny was the coach.

Hardaway donated $11,500 to make the family move possible.

Penny is a famous basketball alum who had supported the Tigers in various ways. He had been rumored as university coach-to-be for months before he got the job. The school says that is incidental.

Hardaway once donated $1 million to his alma mater but that might not make him a booster. The money was used to build the Penny Hardaway Athletic Hall of Fame. Does that matter? It is interesting.

Wiseman’s transfer from Nashville to Memphis was very interesting. The TSSAA thought it smelled a mouse. It declared Wiseman ineligible. The Shelby County Board of Education filed a lawsuit and got that ruling overturned. Penny and Wiseman won a state championship.

A few days later, Penny became coach at the university. In time, Wiseman became the star recruit. The NCAA was confused. It said OK. Then it said maybe not. Memphis was advised to look closely. Wiseman and associates obtained a court order prohibiting the school from blocking his participation. He played for the Tigers – briefly.

Wiseman and associates changed their minds and accepted the NCAA position. Wiseman declared for the NBA draft.

That left Memphis staring straight into the open end of a double-barreled shotgun. Considering its history of NCAA violations, it might be unfairly perceived as a repeat offender. Or, it could be exonerated or even patted on the back for supporting shrewd Penny moves.

The new Independent Accountability Resolutions Process, without my help, will eventually let you know.

Other schools, said to be sinners hoping to escape fiery NCAA punishment, may wait to see how the committee treats Memphis before formally accepting that route as the course of least resistance.

There is one basic premise in their cases: Shoe company dudes distributing hundreds of thousands of real U.S. dollars were enthusiastic representatives of the schools that wear their shoes.

The motivation was obvious: Direct better players to their business partners to help them win more games and inspire more young fans to purchase many more pairs of their shoes.

Defense attorneys will claim the schools knew absolutely nothing of the scheme.

How LSU will explain away the tape of coach Will Wade saying what he had done in previous recruiting adventures and what he would do in another should be classic theater.

While in his 30s, Will won 40 games in two seasons at Chattanooga, went to two NCAA tournaments in two seasons at Virginia Commonwealth and won the SEC title in only his second season at LSU. He was a high-level recruiter at every stop, including when he was an assistant.

Sometime, perhaps, we’ll find out how he did it. HBO has offered audio evidence.

We don’t know if the NCAA will sweep up the soiled napkins from the Bruce Pearl barbecue in his West Knoxville backyard and accuse him of pushing the rules at Auburn. We don’t even know if the NCAA will point a mean finger at Pearl. We do know a key assistant was nailed. The feds got him.

Since the FBI refuses to join this part of the fray and the NCAA lacks subpoena power, we can’t be sure the entire show-and-tell will lead to anything. North Carolina ran a fraudulent academic scheme for a decade or more and got away with it.

We can be sure some around these edges are nervous. Rick Pitino, former Louisville coach, now at Iona, has reason to be afraid of his shadow. College assistant coaches who plea-bargained around prison sentences can’t help but wonder if something else is coming.

The new committee, co-starring Joan Cronan, may conduct a deep cleaning. Or, it may duck and run. More debris could then be swept aside for lack of rock-solid proof.

I’ve known Joan for 40 years. I’ll vouch for her integrity. As for how she beat me out. … One wise guy said she will be front row in committee photographs.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com.

 

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