March madness? Well, yeah, that’s what this month of college basketball NCAA tournament play is called. Of course, it’s always preceded by several months of true insanity. Here’s a rough account of just a few rough moments from this college basketball season:
October: Oh, the horror! Dayton forward Sammy Smith told police that he was abducted near campus and forced, at gunpoint, to drive to Texas. Uh-huh. Turned out that he had made up the story. He was fined $150. Dayton kicked him off the team.
Colorado senior guard James “Mookie” Wright got off much more lightly after being accused of letting himself into a dorm room, crawling into bed with a sleeping 18-year-old female student, and making sexual advances that were rebuffed. Wright was found to have violated the school’s student-conduct code and was suspended indefinitely, but that was reduced after he appealed, and he wound up going to practices and missing only 12 games. He returned to the team just in time to hit a game-winning shot in a Big 12 tournament game last week against Kansas State.
December: Fresno State placed itself on probation after uncovering numerous NCAA rules violations during an internal investigation of its athletic program, including men’s basketball. Two former players reportedly admitted accepting cash and other benefits from sports agents—as much as $30,000 in one player’s case. In addition, the owner of a local Japanese restaurant told a local newspaper that he had given $3000 in free food to FSU players since 1993. These incidents happened during the tenure of former coach Jerry Tarkanian.
January: Deposed Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson‘s son Nolan III resigned as head man at Tennessee State. The school had suspended him indefinitely for allegedly bringing a gun into its arena on December 25, after he reportedly got into an argument with assistant coach Hosea Lewis concerning the time of practice. Richardson admitted to campus police that he then went to his car and returned with a handgun, but told them it wasn’t loaded. Assistant coach Christopher Graves said in a written statement to police that Richardson asked where Lewis was because he “had something for him.”
February: The Tennessee State saga continued: Athletic director Teresa Phillips was practically forced to become the first woman to coach a Division I men’s team during the Tigers’ visit to Austin Peay. Phillips filled in when Hosea Lewis (the team’s interim coach after Nolan Richardson III resigned) was suspended by the Ohio Valley Conference after a bench-clearing brawl during a game at Eastern Kentucky. Phillips downplayed the historic nature of her one-game stint, but she told reporters afterward that if other women are given real opportunities to coach men’s teams in the future, “it will have been worth the irritation.”
March: St. Bonaventure’s season fell apart after it was made public that big man Jamil Terrell had gained admission to the school with a certificate in welding—not with the required junior-college courses. And he did it with school president Robert Wickenheiser‘s approval. St. Bonnie’s players, screwed out of several victories because Terrell was suddenly deemed ineligible, boycotted their last two games. At Georgia, the well-traveled Jim Harrick, whose tenures at UCLA and Rhode Island ended sourly, found himself again in hot water. Assistant coach Jim Harrick Jr. was fired in a grades scandal, while his father was suspended without pay, pending an internal investigation of that scandal. Naturally, the players paid a bigger price: Their promising season was abruptly ended. Angry players tried to talk to university president Michael Adams about it, but the prexy fled and had to be coaxed out of his home to meet with them.
Turns out that Adams and the elder Harrick were pals years ago at Pepperdine and Adams had practically plucked Harrick out of a bad situation at Rhode Island four years ago to make him Georgia’s coach. The elder Harrick had been fired from UCLA in 1996 for lying on an expense report. —Brian P. Dunleavy
Hoops color commentator Bill Raftery, master of the exclamatory ejaculation (or is it “ejaculatory exclamation”?), got off to a fast start last weekend with three gems in the first half of the first TV game he worked: “He’s got the stroke!” “The baby hook—just gorgeous delivery!” “Elevating higher and expanding the wide frame!” . . .
Frankest and funniest: Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe, who fessed up on ESPN’s The Sports Reporters that he loved Kirby Puckett so much he even named his family’s golden retriever “Kirby”—and registered him with the American Kennel Club as “Ryan’s Kirby Puckett”—in honor of the formerly lovable retired Twin, who now, as it turns out, is accused of being, in Ryan’s words, a “serial adulterer,” and is accused in court papers of roughing up women. Ryan ruefully swore off celebrity worship. . . .
Some colleges would be well advised to swear off celebrities. You’ve gotta love it when two supposedly big-time New York City coaches, Mike Jarvis (Patrick Ewing‘s high school coach) and Bob Hill (a former NBA coach and TV commentator), can’t get their clubs (St. John’s and Fordham, respectively) into the NCAAs while two supposedly small-time coaches, Dereck Whittenburg (a celebrity in NC State’s NCAA championship 20 years ago but nearly invisible since) at Wagner and Bobby Gonzalez at Manhattan, can. —Ward Harkavy