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Archive for Friday, May 2, 2008

Commentary: Recruiting outweighs academics

May 2, 2008

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There's no Minnesota high school that does more to promote the growth of its students than DeLaSalle, the Catholic institution on Nicollet Island in Minneapolis. It starts with Brother Michael Collins, the school president and a man as dedicated to creating a school that will prepare young people for college and life as any educator you will find.

Royce White had the good fortune to be part of DeLaSalle's student body. He messed it up.

The first incident earned him a suspension of several games early in his junior basketball season. The second, an "academic mistake" as he has admitted, was blatant enough to get him thrown out of school.

A DeLaSalle official would say only, "Royce didn't follow the rules."

Academic mistake. Breaking rules. Gosh, what in the name of (the late) Jan Gangelhoff could that mean?

This is a high school kid, so the tendency was to let it pass. And then last week White decided to make news by announcing six months before he needed to that he planned to accept a basketball scholarship from the Gophers.

We are nine years removed from Minnesota becoming the basketball program by which all others compare themselves when it comes to academic fraud.

There's no evidence that White's oral commitment was greeted with hesitation by coach Tubby Smith, or his boss, athletic director Joel Maturi, or Maturi's bosses.

They can't comment on the qualities of recruits before they sign, but certainly it was in Smith's power to tell White, "Let's cool it here until next fall - make sure you have your act together academically and elsewhere before you make an announcement."

And if Smith wasn't willing to take that stand on White, then Maturi should have ordered his coach to deliver this message: Tell the young man the offer is off the table until he proves himself somewhere other than the basketball court.

Presumably, there are several clear-thinking folks in Gophers Acreage who remember with embarrassment the end to Clem Haskins' tenure.

We few, we sad few, we band of brothers, would feel better about the White situation if the first thing the kid did after being booted by DeLaSalle was something other than enroll at Hopkins.

Certainly, it is an up-to-date, well-funded school with excellent academic opportunities, but extra-talented basketball players from the west side of the Mississippi River congregate there for one reason: to play basketball.

There is a recent precedent for the White situation when it comes to Gophers basketball. Minneapolis Henry's Brandon Smith already had signed with the Gophers when he was thrown off the team by coach Larry McKenzie in December 2004.

Dan Monson stuck with Smith, and he enrolled as a freshman in the fall of 2005. He was academically ineligible for the second semester. He was suspended by Jim Molinari, Monson's interim replacement, as a sophomore. And then Tubby threw Brandon off the team, once and for all, last fall.

Lesson learned?

Not when you're dealing with a top-40 national talent such as the 6-foot-7 White. Then, you take the shot, even at the school that put fraud behind academic when it comes to big-time basketball.

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