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Archive for Saturday, April 30, 2005

Mayer: Recruits need to be screened

April 30, 2005

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College athletic directors and coaches have enough trouble meeting rising costs without having to include surveillance charges for recruits in their budgets. Yet it's happening, and the greatest danger could be for those who don't check up on the non-athletic activities of prospects.

The past fall, Joe Castiglione, the Oklahoma athletic director, started requiring all "student-athletes" to pass a background check before the university sent them letters of intent offering scholarships. He says this year's incoming football class is the first screened by OU, which uses the same kind of checkup for potential university employees.

OU went through a violent storm before a calm when football coach Barry Switzer had to be ousted because of things like guns and rapes in grid dorms, including some cat who actually harbored a machine gun under the bed, or wherever you store things like .50-calibers and AK-47s. Even football-nutty OU had to consider the oft-winning Switzer tainted and expendable. OU struggled until Bob Stoops came on board. A common quip was that the Sooners would never again be great since they couldn't recruit Murder, Inc., or The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. Stoops seems to be running a highly productive clean house.

It was Baylor that started the ball rolling.

A lot of colleges got considerably goosier about potential bad eggs in the summer of 2003 after Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy was murdered. Teammate Carlton Dotson, a junior-college transfer, was charged in the killing. That led to a lying binge that got coach Dave Bliss fired in disgrace and sent stars such as John Lucas to Oklahoma State and Lawrence Roberts to Mississippi State. The Baylor program faces a long road back.

Understandably, Baylor now plans background checks on incoming jocks, particularly transfers. Officially, OU and Baylor are the only Big 12 Conference schools that currently finance such "characterizations," but I'll betcha that unofficially there's a whole lot of checkin' goin' on.

Before he left for North Carolina, Kansas University basketball coach Roy Williams had to deal with a touchy situation for Oklahoma City recruit J.R. Giddens. Seems J.R. and a couple of relatives allegedly got involved in a little scam caper at a Wal-Mart store. Because of his juvenile status, Giddens was let off the hook. Williams then went ahead and took him on scholarship.

But Roy lowered the boom on JamesOn Curry, the all-time Carolina high school scoring whiz who had been offered a schollie at UNC before Williams succeeded Matt Doherty. Curry was involved in something like four felony drug incidents and got a sentence that included probation and community service. Williams had enough personnel problems with the likes of selfish Rashad McCants. Oklahoma State gave Curry the second chance he asked for, and JamesOn was a star as a 2004-05 freshman. Seems he's doing well, making his grades and ready to become the anchorman for a young and green Cowboy team in 2005-06.

You can be sure Missouri wishes it had checked far more carefully on the rap sheet for basketeer Rickey Clemons. Kansas wound up with footballer John Randle getting nailed for five incidents in an 18-month span. When did the Jayhawks guess he was bad news and when did they know it?

Clearly, Kansas State with its various miscreancies, especially for football, could benefit from a private-eye program to screen recruits. There's no hiding place anymore, and schools which don't get enough data on potential bandits have only themselves to blame. I'm beginning to wonder if these recruit lists of juniors and sophomores in high school aren't compiled early so school people have more time to look into the caliber of character.

What about the costs of running down personal data on prospects? Could Bill Self have justified the expense to send some gumshoe all the way to Siberia to be sure Sasha Kaun wasn't some hammer-and-sickle holdover from a Soviet Union youth group? What would the treasurer have said if Williams had sought money to go to Jyvaskyla, Finland, to make sure Pekka Markkanen's parents didn't collaborate with the Nazis or Soviets somewhere along the line. The travel expenses alone might have nixed such ventures.

What happens if some KU coach finds a budding superstar with an Arab or Islamic background? How much clearance will he require? That could run up a pretty good bill.

It doesn't happen often, but sometimes college life can turn one-time choir boys into hell-raisers. With binge-drinking, groupie crews, drug availability and such, even Dr. Phil McGraw couldn't save some guys.

One of the most comical, yet stupid, crime capers at KU came when footballers Reggie Duncan and Mario Kinsey filched a coed's credit card, went back to the Jayhawk jock dorm, ordered a pizza delivery by phone, gave the card number (reported missing) and then signed for the eats. Again, when you cast "Dumb and Dumber II," no contest for the lead roles.

Then there was the Chalupa King, Dion Rayford, who didn't get quite the gastronomical treat he'd ordered at a local Taco Bell. He tried to crawl through the checkout window to claim his nutritional delight and got stuck, until the cops came to apply bacon grease to release him. No great crime, but sensational fun, most of it poked at KU via national media sharks.

Yep, we're going to see more and more gimlet-eyed checks on college jocks. Considering what is happening so often anymore, that could be a sound invesment by any athletic office.

You get the jewels, like Wayne Simien, Raef LaFrentz, Jacque Vaughn, Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich, Jo Jo White and Danny Manning. But there are enough clunkers in the mix that the new recruiting policy has to be "better safe than sorry."

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