Article about recruit by Chicago paper was unethical, UK attorney says

Calls Chicago paper's story 'unbelievably unsubstantiated'

jtipton@herald-leader.comAugust 7, 2010 

ANTHONY DAVIS

Anthony Davis, a 6-foot-10 forward, joins Rivals.com's No. 1 overall player, Michael Gilchrist, and No. 5 Marquis Teague in Kentucky's 2011 recruiting class. Davis ranks eighth.

GUS CHAN | THE PLAIN DEALER

An attorney representing the University of Kentucky questioned the journalistic ethics of a Chicago Sun-Times reporter who wrote two stories this week citing "rumors/sources" that said UK agreed to pay $200,000 for a commitment from a highly regarded basketball prospect from Chicago.

In denying the allegation, attorney Stephen Barker sent a letter to the reporter, Michael O'Brien, that said the school might take legal action because of "unbelievably unsubstantiated" stories.

The Sun-Times removed the allegation from its first story, which was posted on its Web site Wednesday. Later, the newspaper removed the entire story.

Then the Sun-Times posted another story Friday citing "sources from three separate universities" saying that the father of prospect Anthony Davis asked for between $125,000 to $150,000 in return for his son's commitment.

"The journalism ethics ... seem to be absolutely thrown out the window," Barker said Friday. "It seems to us a journalist has to chase down rumors and get credible collaboration. And that didn't happen, in our view.

"... I really thought that when they took it down yesterday, that they recognized the error."

Barker said the appearance of a second story produced "shock and disbelief."

Several calls and e-mails to the Sun-Times went unanswered.

UK Coach John Calipari declined Thursday to comment on the initial report. "No, no. I won't bother with ridiculous things," he said.

The newspaper's article said that the NCAA was "checking" into the recruitment of Davis, who heretofore had been most famous for growing 10 inches in two years, a growth spurt that elevated him to the top echelon of prospects in the class of 2011. After visiting UK recently, Davis reportedly said he had made his college choice but would wait an undetermined time before announcing it.

When contacted Wednesday, Davis declined comment.

In follow-up contacts with O'Brien, Barker said that he wanted to convey a two-fold message to the reporter:

■ UK strongly denied the allegation that it paid for a prospect's commitment. The Sun-Times story based on unnamed sources was "the worst form of hearsay and it's not credible," Barker said.

■ O'Brien would be wrong to suggest an NCAA check into the Davis recruitment represented an investigation of UK's basketball program.

"When an immediate firestorm is created, the NCAA is going to ask who is the source," Barker said. "But that doesn't mean the NCAA opened an investigative file on Kentucky. There's a huge difference between those two concepts."

Spokesman Chuck Wynne said that the NCAA does not comment on any review conducted by its enforcement staff.

When asked about UK taking legal action, Barker said, "We have put the newspaper Web site, whatever you want to call it, on notice that that's being considered. And it is."

A statement released by athletic department spokesman DeWayne Peevy noted how UK was "dismayed" by the "continued lack of professionalism and responsible journalism exhibited by Michael O'Brien and the Chicago Sun-Times in running yet another false and defamatory story."

The statement noted that the Friday story followed denials by UK and Davis' father. The family had reportedly retained an attorney. UK voiced its support of any action, presumably legal action, the family might take against O'Brien and the Sun-Times.

Longtime recruiting analysts said that "sources and rumors," the basis for the Sun-Times' first story on the alleged $200,000 deal for Davis, have long been part of the pursuit of basketball prospects.

Brick Oettinger of the Prep Stars recruiting service recalled hearing about such speculation more than 30 years ago, long before the riches gained from athletic success reached billion-dollar proportions.

"The people who are perpetuating these stories are college assistant coaches who are out there recruiting," Oettinger said. "A vast majority of the time, I believe (the stories). But it's just hard to prove."

When asked how prevalent such stories are in recruiting circles, Oettinger said, "Pretty prevalent. You hear them (involving) some prospects every single year. Only the names change.

"I don't think there are very many people involved in big-time basketball who believe there isn't any of this stuff going on. I don't think anybody is that naive."

Jerry Meyer, an analyst for the Rivals.com recruiting service, also noted how allegations of rules violations and outright paying for players gets whispered from one observer to another.

"You don't necessarily always believe the specifics," he said. "But in general (he chuckled) I would assume and I think most people do assume cheating is very prevalent."

When asked why there would be such a widespread belief, Meyer said, "When you can't see through the smoke, you assume there's a fire somewhere."

Like Oettinger, Meyer said rival recruiters had a motive to spread talk of rule violations.

"Let's assume Davis is going to Kentucky," Meyer said. "The competition might throw that out there to prevent the commitment from happening. There's a lot of misinformation out there."

Davis reportedly has narrowed his college choices to Kentucky, Ohio State and Syracuse. He also visited DePaul recently.

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