The Plank

The Real Basketball Scandal

ESPN has been hyping the hell out of this Yahoo! Sports story about shady goings-on in UConn's men's basketball program. And it's a pretty juicy story, with UConn reportedly using an allegedly crooked agent with close ties to the program to recruit a "talented but troubled" high school player. If it's all true, then UConn might be in some serious trouble with the NCAA. (Or more likely, to steal a line from Jerry Tarkanian, the NCAA will be so mad at UConn, it'll put Cleveland State on probation for two years.)

The much-discussed UConn story is part of a Yahoo! Sports investigative series on the changing role of agents in basketball, but it's actually another story from that series that, in my opinion, is more significant--and reveals more about the state of the game. That story, which so far as I can tell ESPN has largely ignored*, is about an agency called Ceruzzi Sports and its efforts to land Kevin Love as a client by donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to Love's old AAU team.

What makes that story so significant is that the people involved are folks who, in the basketball world, are generally considered  paragons of integrity--whether it's Charles Grantham (the former executive director of the NBA Players Association) and Jay Williams (the former Duke star), both of whom worked for Ceruzzi; or Love himself, whose father played in the NBA and whose skin color and affluent upbringing led him to be dubbed basketball's "great white hope." And yet, even with all of these paragons of integrity involved, look at how grubby their behavior was:

Kevin Love said he would’ve preferred hitting In-N-Out
Burger with his family after another UCLA victory last winter. Yet,
there was Pat Barrett, head of one of the top AAU basketball programs
in the country, waiting outside the Pauley Pavilion locker room and
pleading for Love to come with him instead.

Love had known Barrett since he was in fifth grade, played two years
for Barrett’s traveling team and, as a result, said he felt obligated
to go. What Love apparently didn’t know was a New York sports agency
had donated $250,000 to Barrett’s team under the premise Barrett could
deliver players such as Kevin Love – to dinner first, then as a client.

When Love arrived at Mr. Chow, the famed Chinese restaurant in
Beverly Hills, the waiting group included Jay Williams, former national
player of the year at Duke and 2002 NBA lottery pick.

Williams was there on business, as the chief recruiter for Ceruzzi
Sports and Entertainment, the very agency that staked Barrett with a
quarter-million dollars.

So, while most sports fans probably think the shady stuff only takes place with dicey agents who are involved with schools like UConn that are recruiting players who are troubled, this other Yahoo! Sports story shows that the same shady stuff is going on with people who all came through supposedly clean institutions like Duke, UCLA, and the NBA Players Association. In other words, the whole system is dirty.

*--Not to be too conspiratorial, but ESPN's decision to largely ignore this second, juicier Yahoo! Sports story wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that one of the story's main character is Jay Williams, who currently works for ESPN, would it?

--Jason Zengerle

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