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Connecticut-maryland Recruiting Battle Not Exactly A Gay Old Time

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By Dave Glenn and staff, ACCSports.com
December 1, 2003   COLLEGE PARK — Everyone in college basketball knows recruiting can be a dirty business. Some schools and coaches are willing to get a little dirtier than others. During his 15-year tenure at Maryland, Gary Williams has proven he will go only so far to land a blue-chip prospect. Williams has eschewed many of the practices that have become commonplace in the pursuit of high school All-Americans. No program is completely angelic, but Maryland under Williams never has been accused of using illegal tactics on the recruiting trail. Michigan under Steve Fisher and UNLV under Jerry Tarkanian are among the many programs that had players accepting money from boosters. Questions have been raised about the recruiting methods of Cincinnati, Florida, Mississippi State and others. Once upon a time, Kentucky had an assistant coach who sent an envelope of cash to a recruit. All the while, Maryland has managed to avoid the pitfalls that lead to whispers among members of the coaching fraternity and finger-pointing from opposing schools. While Williams has left most of the hustle work to his assistants in recent years, he has provided very clear direction as to how he wants them to represent the university. One of the many ways Williams has kept his hands clean is by refusing to deal with AAU coaches, street agents and other hangers-on. Williams is an old-school coach, in that he prefers to work through the high school coach and the family. According to recruiting experts, that policy of not sucking up to AAU coaches or ingratiating “handlers” has hurt the Terrapins at times, costing the program any shot of landing several players over the years. Williams had a running feud for some time with D.C. Assault co-founder and coach Curtis Malone, a one-time convicted cocaine dealer who's often involved in the recruiting process when teams are pursuing his players. It reportedly turned Malone off that he was not given choice seats at Cole Field House. There were other slights, real and perceived, that led to the perception of Malone as an anti-Williams force and an enemy of the Maryland program. A litany of D.C. Assault products went elsewhere, sometimes without even giving the local school a legitimate look. Prep stars Louis Bullock (Michigan), DerMarr Johnson (Cincinnati) and James White (Florida, now Cincinnati) were just some of the players Malone supposedly steered away from the Terps. Williams has encountered problems in Baltimore as well, in part thanks to the widespread influence of Bob Wade. Ever since being fired as Maryland's head coach in 1989, Wade has spoken out against the school over his alleged mistreatment. Wade got the program put on probation for various rules violations, but he maintains to this day that he was set up, ratted out and not supported by the athletic department. Wade, who built Dunbar High into a national powerhouse and produced dozens of Division I players, ultimately returned to Baltimore as a high-ranking administrator with the city's recreation and parks department. Many Maryland fans wonder if Wade did anything to discourage local standouts such as Keith Booth, Juan Dixon, Carmelo Anthony (Syracuse) and now Rudy Gay (Connecticut) from playing for the Terps. Wade's government position gives him some control over how funds are allocated for the city's recreation centers. Many of Baltimore's finest basketball players have come through the Cecil-Kirk Recreation Center, which is directed by Anthony “Doodie” Lewis. According to sources in Baltimore, it is the nature of their relationship that when Wade says jump, Lewis asks how high. That may be one reason why so many Maryland fans think Lewis has worked overtime to convince his top players to play for anyone but the Terps. Most recently, he reportedly pushed Anthony to the Orangemen and Gay to the Huskies. The Terps were never really in the running for Anthony, who made it clear he probably would play just one season of college ball. However, Williams definitely wanted Gay and put considerable time and effort into landing the 6-8 forward. Maryland has known about Gay since he was a sophomore at Eastern Tech, a public school in Baltimore County. Members of the staff were thrilled when the promising prospect transferred to Archbishop Spalding, a private school in Anne Arundel County. Maryland assistant Jimmy Patsos already was recruiting Spalding center Will Bowers at the time, and he had developed a good relationship with the school's coaching staff. Many people close to Gay believe he probably would not have been an NCAA qualifier had he not gotten into a college prep environment. However, the move caused controversy and led the Catholic League, of which Spalding is a member, to alter its rules on athletic transfers. Spalding coach Mike Glick had to jump through a lot of hoops to get Gay, who has played for Lewis and Cecil-Kirk since he was 12 years old. In order to gain Lewis' approval, Glick reportedly had to get several Spalding players, including Bowers and point guard Jesse Brooks, to switch AAU programs from Baltimore Select to Cecil-Kirk. Connecticut also got in early on Gay, thanks in part to coach Jim Calhoun's long-time relationship with Lewis. The two have known each other since Calhoun was the head coach at Northeastern and recruited several Cecil-Kirk players, including Reggie Lewis (Dunbar, Northeastern, Boston Celtics). Gay's stock rose dramatically over the summer, after he dominated on the AAU and camp circuits. The sleek, athletic combination forward arrived at the Nike Camp rated No. 68 nationally by PrepStars.com and emerged at No. 8, after out-playing more highly touted prospects throughout the week. Gay is a humble, down-to-earth young man who has remained remarkably unaffected by his status as a likely McDonald's All-American and NBA prospect. Perhaps because he was a late bloomer, he does not seem to have the sense of entitlement that has become commonplace among big-time prep basketball players. His explosive summertime performance led such powerhouse programs as Syracuse, Kentucky and Arizona to enter the picture, but by most accounts it was always a two-horse race between Connecticut and Maryland, the two schools that had been there from the beginning. Glick and Lewis both claim they wanted Gay to choose the school where he was most comfortable. Perhaps that's true. But it's also true that Glick is a big Maryland supporter, a friend and fan of the program who routinely receives tickets behind the home bench at Comcast Center. Lewis, meanwhile, was pushing Connecticut and questioning Maryland from the outset. Many feel Lewis' main loyalty was to Wade. One source close to the situation referred to Lewis as “Bob Wade's bag man.” Others feel Lewis was largely interested in money, which he wound up getting in a roundabout way from Connecticut. Much has been made about the exhibition game between Connecticut and an outfit known as the Baltimore Ballers, which was played Nov. 13 in Hartford. The Ballers were a thrown-together, hodgepodge group of Baltimore-area players who came through Cecil-Kirk and once were coached by Lewis. Former Miami star Kevin Norris directed the team against UConn, which won the non-competitive exhibition 102-44. Suspiciously, it turned out that was the Baltimore Ballers' only game against a collegiate team this year. It has been reported that Connecticut paid $25,000 (an amount slightly above the going rate for such games) to the Ballers, with the money going to the East Baltimore Midway Community Association, a non-profit organization that helps fund the Cecil-Kirk Recreation Center. Lewis was first asked about the exhibition on Nov. 4, the day Gay committed to Connecticut in a press conference at Spalding. At the time, he flatly denied having any involvement with the Baltimore Ballers and even acted as if he wasn't sure who played for the team. Calhoun later blew that story when he responded to a CBS.SportsLine.com report that Lewis asked both Maryland and Connecticut to schedule exhibitions with the Ballers. “Tony Lewis didn't ask me to play a game nor did he ask Gary (Williams),” Calhoun told the Hartford Courant. “It was me that initiated that. I've had nine of his players. I thought it would be a great idea to play the game.” Calhoun's comments came on Nov. 22. That was after Williams had implied that the $25,000 payout that many believe ultimately went to the Cecil-Kirk program had helped UConn lure Gay. Williams was discussing the merits of playing an NBA Development League team in an exhibition when he made a snide comment obviously directed at Calhoun. “We could have scheduled an AAU team and given them $25,000,” Williams said, “like some schools I know.” Those words angered Calhoun, who basically called Williams a sore loser in an interview with the Courant. “I like Gary, I respect Gary, but I think he is taking this a step beyond. We all lose players. I was disappointed that Gary felt he needed to say something,” Calhoun said. “I'm not telling Gary what to do, but you win some in recruiting and you lose some, and usually it's because the other guy did a better job or the kid wanted to go away.” Calhoun and assistant Tom Moore did hustle to get Gay, coming to Baltimore many times over the past couple years. Last spring, Calhoun gave a speech to youngsters in the Cecil-Kirk program and accepted no fee. According to recruiting experts and several sources close to Gay, Calhoun was more personally involved with the Huskies' attempt to land Gay than Williams was with the Terps' efforts. “I think everybody should realize that about six years ago a kid named Juan Dixon came out of Cecil-Kirk, and it was Doodie who thought the best opportunity for him was at Maryland and suggested he go there,” Calhoun said. “If everybody kind of remembers that, it'd be a lot easier. Doodie thought the best opportunity for Rudy was here.” In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, Lewis also suggested that he influenced Dixon to choose Maryland. That angered Dixon's high school coach, who reportedly called the Sun and stated that Lewis had nothing to do with the player's recruitment. Calvert Hall coach Mark Amatucci told a member of the Sun staff that Lewis wanted to be involved in Dixon's recruitment, but “I wouldn't let him.” Amatucci said he thought Lewis had an agenda, and that it was not favorable toward Maryland. The exhibition game against the Ballers wasn't the only questionable aspect of Gay's recruitment. Perhaps the most unusual move involved Connecticut's decision to extend an official visit to Spalding point guard Jesse Brooks, an unheralded prospect who is a close friend of Gay. Not surprisingly, as is permitted under NCAA rules, Gay accompanied Brooks to Storrs as a guest. Gay already had taken his one allowable official visit to Connecticut, and it's obvious now that the Brooks visit was simply a ploy to get the Huskies' primary target back on campus as his decision day drew near. It is extremely unusual for a school to schedule an official visit for someone who has virtually no chance of being offered a scholarship. Glick confirmed that Connecticut was not actively recruiting Brooks, a low-major prospect who is considering Towson and St. Francis of Pennsylvania. For his part, Gay said he chose Connecticut because it offered a better situation “basketball-wise” than Maryland. Gay cited Calhoun's offensive system and his track record of sending swingmen such as Ray Allen (Seattle) and Caron Butler (Miami) to the NBA. “When I went up to UConn, I just fell in love with their system and how they play,” Gay said. “They run NBA sets, and in the future I hope to play in the NBA.” Lewis suggested that Maryland would not be a good fit for Gay because Williams employs the flex offense, a free-flowing style that doesn't highlight any one player and doesn't have a lot of designed plays. Lewis claimed that Gay's performance at the Nike Camp was the result of his being showcased in an NBA type of environment.

“The kind of personnel around him at Nike allowed him to do things that he can't do at Spalding, where Coach Glick runs the flex,” Lewis said. That was a clear dig at Maryland and, like many things Lewis says, flat-out misleading. Spalding doesn't run an offense even remotely related to the flex. An interesting footnote is that, not surprisingly, Glick and Lewis had a major falling-out over Gay's recruitment and now can't stand one another. On the day Gay committed to UConn, Glick informed Lewis he was pulling Spalding's underclassmen out of the Cecil-Kirk program. Gay's recruitment probably wasn't any more questionable or down-and-dirty than that of many other top-10 prospects. But the fact that some gory details emerged, and that two high-profile college coaches engaged in a bit of sniping, made it seem so. There may be consequences as a result of the Calhoun-Williams tiff. Reportedly, the NCAA is considering legislation to control the nature of preseason exhibitions. Some have suggested making it illegal for colleges to play any teams affiliated with players who are being recruited. Ultimately, Connecticut landed Gay in part because Calhoun and his staff took a no-holds-barred approach and were intent on doing whatever it took to get an NBA-caliber talent. As has always been the case, Maryland and Williams were willing to go only so far. Hokies Welcome Basketball Risk

BLACKSBURG — On the night of Sept. 18, as Hurricane Isabel pummeled Virginia and Virginia Tech's football team did the same to Texas A&M, Hokies men's basketball coach Seth Greenberg was on a cloud floating above it all. Marquie Cooke, one of the nation's top point guard recruits, had braved the weather and was in attendance for his official visit to Blacksburg … and Greenberg wasn't about to let him get away. Greenberg schmoozed in the football press box that night. He pumped out handshakes. Though NCAA rules mandated that he couldn't say a word about it, everybody knew why he was grinning from ear to ear. It remains to be seen if he'll still be beaming a year or two from now. Now that Cooke has signed with Virginia Tech, a struggling basketball program in desperate need of a talent infusion, the only question remaining is whether Greenberg can handle the possible baggage that could come along with the recruit. Cooke could set a dangerous precedent in Blacksburg. A 6-3 standout from Nansemond River High in Suffolk, Va., Cooke has ball-handling and passing skills far beyond his years. He is the state's quickest player in the open court since Allen Iverson terrorized high school opponents at Bethel High in Hampton. Cooke also has shooting ability similar to Iverson's, which is to say he isn't exactly a dead-eye, but Cooke — again like A.I. — is a clutch performer. Need a key three-pointer down the stretch? Cooke is a go-to guy. Strong drives to the basket in the waning moments? Cooke isn't afraid. Unfortunately for Tech, those similarities may not be the only ones Cooke has in common with the tumultuous Iverson. Cooke will arrive in Blacksburg with the potential for serious trouble in tow. He already has an entourage of worrisome hangers-on and acquaintances that could threaten the chemistry of a college basketball team. It's not fair to tell a kid how to choose his friends, but it's clear that Cooke is used to the limelight. He just doesn't always know how to handle it. Over the summer, Cooke ran into some trouble at the Nike All-America camp in Indianapolis. Though he reportedly was dismissed as a result of an ugly dispute with a camp official regarding a dirty uniform, multiple sources said the uniform situation was simply the last straw in a string of disciplinary problems. Even before the Nike event, Cooke had a reputation as a talented but troublesome individual, and some programs stopped recruiting him for reasons completely unrelated to his undeniable basketball ability. “I went (to Indianapolis) in (2002), and it was not that great of an experience,” Cooke told one reporter in July. “But my grandmamma wanted me to go back, and I was doing it for her. Everything was going fine, then …” All of the warning signs aside, there's no need to send Cooke straight to execution before he has even participated in his first college practice. The basis for a strong relationship has been formed, as Greenberg displayed great faith in Cooke by continuing to pursue him despite the troubles that chased other programs away. Greenberg, who built solid programs at Long Beach State and South Florida, is an excellent salesman. He sold Cooke on the struggling Hokies by playing up their future inclusion in the ACC and what Cooke's role could be in building the program. “He was saying I could be the Mike Vick of basketball,” Cooke said at his Oct. 8 press conference, where he announced he had chosen Tech over Clemson, Virginia Commonwealth and Charlotte. “I want to go down there and change everything around.” Like all coaches, Greenberg needs to be careful about the caliber of player and person he brings onto his team. Tech's basketball program, in particular, has had plenty of unseemly headlines in recent history. Kenny Harrell, a standout guard from Newport News, Va., was dismissed from the university in 1998 after being charged with discharging a firearm on campus. Post players Dennis Mims and Rolan Roberts transferred after Mims was found guilty of assault by the university's judicial review board, in connection with a rape charge by a female Tech student. Roberts was charged with possession of marijuana in connection with the incident. Obviously, Greenberg had nothing to do with those players' indiscretions, or any of the 15 players who have quit or transferred out of the Hokies' program since the start of the 1999-2000 season, including starting forward Dimari Thompkins in August. But Greenberg can't afford to continue that trend. Considered by most to be an excellent recruiter, Greenberg will find that few things could scare off savvy ACC-caliber recruits more than the potential perception that Tech is a program where nobody wants to stay. Make no mistake about it. Cooke is the right kind of player to build a program around. He's a floor leader with the ability to dictate the pace of games with the ball in his hands. Whether he's also the right kind of person for the job remains to be seen.  

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