The weighing game: One-and-dones
Armed with two cell phones, Dwayne “Tiny” Morton has fielded calls from college coaches across the country and dealt with a curious recruiting process.
The phones rang much like they had five years ago when Sebastian Telfair, then the most celebrated high school player in the nation, ran the court for Morton at Abraham Lincoln High in Brooklyn, N.Y. The reason the calls resumed this past season: Morton had Lance Stephenson, a McDonald’s All-American who surpassed Lew Alcindor, Stephon Marbury and Telfair as the most prolific scorer in New York City high school basketball history.
The recruitment of Stephenson has indeed brought a buzz, but with a different tone.
College coaches had little interest in talking about Stephenson’s shooting, rebounding or all-around skills that would have made him a potential first-round pick in the NBA draft this year, if not for the league’s 19-year-old age rule. Most of the coaches who called, according to Morton, voiced concerns about off-the-court issues, including rumors that Stephenson’s family accepted money based on their son’s future earning potential – a violation of NCAA rules.
Now the phone calls have all but ceased, and Stephenson, rated by Rivals.com as the 11th-best high school senior in the nation, has yet to sign with a college.
“Considering what’s going on, I guess that’s the way the coaches are handling it,” Morton said.
What’s going on, a cross-section of coaches and recruiting analysts say, is college coaches are taking a harder look at the risks and the rewards of signing one-and-dones. The practice is drawing more scrutiny in the wake of a scandal at the University of Southern California and the ensuing resignation of coach Tim Floyd.
O.J. Mayo gave USC instant star power when he signed with the Trojans in 2007 and led them to the NCAA tournament. Mayo also left behind baggage, allegations surfacing after he bolted for the NBA that while at USC Mayo took $30,000 funneled from an agent in violation of NCAA rules. Louis Johnson, a former member of Mayo’s inner circle, recently told Yahoo! Sports that Floyd gave at least $1,000 in cash to Ronald Guillory, who helped guide Mayo to the Trojans.
Already under scrutiny because football star Reggie Bush allegedly took money from agents while at USC, the Trojans face the prospect of more severe NCAA sanctions because of their one-and-done star. They’re not alone.
Following Mayo’s year at USC, celebrated freshman Derrick Rose led the University of Memphis to the national championship game. More glory, more fallout.
Rose, the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft after his one season at Memphis, has triggered an investigation. The NCAA has alleged that Rose had someone else take his SAT test, and Rose’s older brother, Reggie, flew on the school’s charter plane without fully reimbursing the school.
“It’s tough because you want those kids, you want that level of player because you’ve got to have great players to get to the Final Four,” said Gene Keady, longtime coach at Purdue who now serves as an analyst for the Big Ten Network. “… If you have integrity, you’re probably going to stay away from them.”
NCAA rules on academic progress also serve as a possible deterrent. Ohio State recently lost two basketball scholarships largely because Greg Oden and Kosta Koufos left for the NBA after their freshman seasons without having maintained their eligibility.
“I’d like to think that maybe there is a shift toward coaches and administrators really being in tune to follow the spirit of the rules and not just kind of the letter of the law,” said Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics that has pushed for academic accountability. “But I think a lot of that is due to the potential loss of scholarships.”
As for schools that recruit players suspected of having violated NCAA rules by accepting money, Keady said, “They’re rolling the dice.”
The recruitment of Stephenson and Renardo Sidney, another highly touted recruit, has demonstrated who’s still rolling the dice and who’s watching from the sideline. While Stephenson continues to wait for a scholarship offer, Sidney’s courtship with UCLA and USC fizzled before he eventually signed with Mississippi State.
Stephenson hung up the phone when Yahoo! Sports asked him for comment. Attorney Donald Jackson, who’s representing the Sidney family, said he was unsure what happened with UCLA, which reportedly ended its pursuit of Sidney in abrupt fashion. But Jackson disputed reports that USC withdrew its scholarship offer and said Sidney simply wanted to return to his home state of Mississippi.
The controversy surrounding one-and-dones has become a sensitive issue for John Beilein, head coach at Michigan and chairman of a newly formed men’s Division I Basketball Ethics Coalition.
“It’s ever changing,” he said. “It seems as these allegations come up, I think we’ve got to look at them all and make some informed decisions.”
Beilein said the coalition discussed one-and-dones during its first meeting and will grapple with the issue again during an upcoming conference call.
“We’re working on how to get our agenda together and to see where the low-hanging fruit is we can attack right away, to the complexities of things like this,” he said. “Because what is the right answer for another Kobe Bryant or LeBron James? What are the right answers that allow kids to reach their goal of playing pro basketball but also not taint the college basketball world?”
Like Stephenson, Telfair faced allegations of taking money and jeopardizing his amateur status. But it didn’t matter, because although Telfair signed with Louisville he went straight to the NBA. No high school player has had that option since 2006, when the NBA imposed a rule that restricts players from entering the draft until a year after their high school class has graduated or the player turns 19.
But the NBA has been unable to restrict agents from trying to secure future clients by giving players and their advisers extra benefits. College coaches privately expressed concerns that the same types of arrangements might be in place with Stephenson and Sidney. But the issue goes beyond the two players, with top prospects often surrounded by handlers and others looking to capitalize on the player.
“Whether it’s good or bad, they have a vested interest in his future,” Beilein said. “… That’s a big concern about the people that may not have the same agenda that the NCAA would like them to have.”
There are other reasons schools could be worried about Stephenson or Sidney, both McDonald’s All-Americans. Stephenson faces criminal charges for allegedly groping a 17-year-old girl, and a court hearing is scheduled for June 29. Sidney was suspended from school earlier this year after a verbal altercation with one of his teachers. Both players also have drawn unwanted attention for on-court comportment, with Sidney at times displaying lackluster effort and Stephenson at times quarreling with teammates.
But in both cases, amateurism issues – stemming from rumors that the families accepted money based on the players’ future earning potential, a violation of NCAA rules – emerged as a primary concern.
“Usually you’re worried about guy’s academics,” said Jerry Meyer, a recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. “These questions of amateurism, that’s sort of news. But I expect that to come up more and more.”
No one questions where Renardo Sidney’s family got the money to move to Los Angeles from Mississippi in 2005, when he was a highly touted ninth grader. About $20,000 came from Reebok when the sneaker and apparel company hired Sidney’s father as a “consultant.”
But it’s unclear how the family has paid for living expenses such as rent – $4,000 to $5,000 a month for a home valued at $1.2 million, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. Now the family appears to be moving out and moving on – to Starkville, Miss.
A recruit who looked destined to play in the glitter of Los Angeles will instead try to play at Mississippi State. The school, in turn, has hired an outside firm to review Sidney’s background for potential rules violations, and the NCAA has initiated an investigation.
Stephenson is sure to initiate the same intense scrutiny, if and when he signs with a college. During the recruiting process, he listed 11 schools as possible destinations and included premier programs such as North Carolina, UCLA, Kansas and Arizona. Only two schools Stephenson listed during his senior season are currently recruiting him, sources said.
One is Memphis, which has continued to court Stephenson while dealing with the NCAA investigation into who at the university knew about Rose’s allegedly fraudulent SAT score. The other is Maryland, where for years coach Gary Williams touted his ethical standards in recruiting. But now he’s also trying to right a program that has struggled since winning the 2002 national title and could use a young star.
Earlier this year, Williams blamed an associate athletic director for his program losing a highly regarded recruit with a long record of legal troubles. The player’s background apparently raised concerns within the athletic department.
Now Williams is recruiting Stephenson despite off-the-court issues.
NCAA rules prohibit coaches from discussing unsigned recruits such as Stephenson. And the NCAA’s committee on infractions has yet to demonstrate how alleged rule violations involving one-and-done players such as Mayo and Rose will affect the schools for which they played.
Keady, who spent 25 years at Purdue, suggests there’s no reason for coaches to wait. Given what has transpired at USC and Memphis, he said, the risk of signing one-and-dones outweighs the reward, no matter how enticing.
“That’s why I’m kind of glad I’m not coaching anymore,” Keady said.