Picking up where college basketball left off, Kentucky State fired its men’s coach for slugging a player in the face. It’s odds-on that some other sap will get bounced for doing something stupid before the season is too old. The games and the worries start Thursday.
If this season is anything like last, Congress may feel compelled to launch an investigation. What is it about college hoops — the pressure? the money? the water? — that makes coaches and players do foolish things?
Just a few days ago Kentucky State coach Winston Bennett acknowledged in a statement, on the way out the door, that he hit senior guard Ricky Green at practice. Bennett, expressing remorse, said he and Green overreacted to a heated situation and both threw punches.
“If there was ever a time when I wish the hands of time could be turned back, it is right now,” Bennett said.
There are a lot of people in college basketball who probably felt the same way during the past year.
Wouldn’t Iowa State’s Larry Eustachy like to return to the moment when somebody snapped his photograph, beer in hand and kissing a coed at a party? Or better yet, to the days long ago when the beers started getting out of hand?
Wouldn’t Jim Harrick like to go back and erase his mistakes and those of his son? Given his track record at UCLA, Rhode Island and, his last stop, Georgia, that might take a while. It’s hard to pinpoint a moment when you’ve been accused over the years of lying, changing players’ grades, arranging gifts from boosters to players, and having Junior teach a bogus class on coaching.
Wouldn’t Dave Bliss like to cancel that insane meeting with players and assistants, secretly captured on tape, when he laid out a scheme to portray slain player Patrick Dennehy as a drug dealer as part of a cover-up? Except it wasn’t just that meeting. There was a pattern of deception.
The soaps have nothing on college basketball when it comes to sleaze. Last season had it all, except for a juicy point-shaving scandal. Anyone taking bets on that happening this year?
Coaches, recognizing a crisis in their ranks, convened in Chicago last month and came up with a code of ethics. As if they didn’t know all along that they weren’t supposed to lie and cheat. Anyway, almost all the 328 in Division I showed up and promised to do better.
There will be a lot of eyes on coaches this year with 46 job changes. It wasn’t just the schools with scandals that made moves, it was schools with small problems like crabby players and losing records. The pressure will be on the new men in charge to change that.
Even the semi-sainted Roy Williams felt the heat the instant he took the North Carolina job, forsaking his other longtime love, Kansas.
“I had some North Carolina people criticize my actions at the press conference because I wasn’t standing on the table doing cartwheels,” Williams said. “But I told them it was because, six hours before, I’d just had the most difficult meeting of my life.”
That was the meeting where he said goodbye to Kansas, and it wasn’t pretty. The Jayhawks felt betrayed, and Williams, who had promised them three years earlier that he would stay until he retired or died, felt guilty. Tears flowed all around.
“Had I known what I was going to feel like telling my players I was leaving, there’s no way I could have done it,” he told The Associated Press recently. “It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever felt dirty.”
That’s because, unlike some of his coaching brethren, Williams has a conscience. It took some extra-friendly persuasion from his mentor, Dean Smith, and a nasty dispute with the Kansas athletic director over other matters, to prompt Williams’ move. Now all he has to do to please Tar Heels fans is to take the team to the Final Four.
Coaches have a rough job. People expect them to win and follow the rules. Or at least not get caught. Some, like Williams, have figured out how to do it right.
Many of them make millions, have gaudy sneaker deals, and sweet TV and radio gigs. But they’re all living with the same cold fear that they’re one lousy season away from unemployment. It’s enough to make a few act imprudently.
In this game, one man’s problem is another man’s opportunity. It’s been impossible for anyone not named John Wooden to produce a steady stream of winners and maintain his integrity at UCLA. Ben Howland will be the eighth to try since Wooden retired in 1975.
Bill Self is stepping up in class and expectations from Illinois to Williams’ vacated spot at Kansas. Taking over for a legend, even one considered a turncoat, isn’t easy.
The easiest job for a new coach this year may be at Baylor, where former Valparaiso coach Scott Drew replaced Bliss. The Bears’ record will hardly matter.
The rot is so deep at Baylor — one player dead, a former teammate accused of murdering him, three other players bailing out to play elsewhere — that Drew will be a success if his team simply stays together through the season and nobody’s arrested.
Duke coach said that after winning his second gold medal in men's basketball would be his Team USA finale. That may not be the case anymore.
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