It’s been almost 30 years since then-school president David Roselle hired Rick Pitino as the coach to restore rules compliance and integrity to Kentucky’s basketball program. To describe his view of Pitino now in light of a series of embarrassing headlines capped by last week’s allegation that Louisville paid $100,000 for a player, Roselle used presidential-level understatement.
“After the waitress and after the prostitutes and so forth and so on, my opinion, I guess, has deteriorated,” Roselle said in a telephone conversation late last week.
In 1989, Kentucky was in the approximate position Louisville finds itself now. A series of well-publicized controversies, in UK’s case rules violations and academic fraud. Then the departures of the coach, Eddie Sutton, and the athletics director, Cliff Hagan. The result was a program looking at NCAA penalties and a bleak immediate future.
Roselle recalled P.J. Carlesimo as the first coaching candidate/white knight that Kentucky seriously considered.
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“He sat at my breakfast table and he said, ‘Dr. Roselle, if you hire a basketball coach and he cheats, would you fire him?’” Roselle recalled. “And I said, ‘No. I’d shoot him.’
“He just said, ‘You talk plain.’”
Next up was Pitino. The Herald-Leader complicated this possible hire by publishing a story on the day he was scheduled to interview for the job. The story detailed how the NCAA found Pitino had broken several rules as an assistant coach at Hawaii.
UK’s new athletics director, C.M. Newton, advised against hiring Pitino. “We just can’t hire somebody who has a bad history,” Roselle recalled Newton saying.
Roselle insisted on a meeting and came away convinced Pitino was “squeaky clean” and too smart to jeopardize a future glittering with promise. Roselle hired Pitino. Roselle came to feel much more than vindicated.
“I thought he did a masterful job,” Roselle said of Pitino, “and I thought he played it straight.”
The Pitino claiming to be caught unaware of problems at Louisville (the prostitutes, the report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation) was not the Pitino that Roselle knew.
“He was cognizant of every aspect of his program,” Roselle said.
Full disclosure: Roselle said he had a falling out with Pitino. Later, as University of Delaware president, Roselle did not hire a coach recommended by Pitino.
But Roselle said he did not get any satisfaction from what Pitino’s lawyer termed a firing by Louisville last week. Instead, it provided a sad reminder of the sordid environment that envelops basketball recruiting.
“Sadly, I wasn’t very surprised that there were some real shortcuts taken in recruiting,” Roselle said of the FBI report.
Roselle suggested the root of the sleaze described by the FBI investigation is money.
“You can argue, and people do, that the year following their college (year), these young men are going to be making a lot of money,” he said of high-level basketball prospects. “But this (college) year, they’re not allowed to make any money. And that’s the problem. And their parents are anxious to get to the money days.”
Then you have coaches’ salaries spiraling ever higher, which provides a strong incentive to protect the gold mine. “I do think it’s nuts,” Roselle said of coaches’ salaries. “I really do.”
Asked if the “real shortcuts” he diplomatically mentioned could be tied to protecting those salaries, Roselle said, “Yeah. I think there’s no question about that.”
FBI and NCAA
The Drake Group seeks to strengthen the academic component of college athletics. Its president, David Ridpath, saw the FBI’s entrance into recruiting as a shock to the college basketball system.
When the news broke Tuesday of allegations of paying players and fraud, FBI assistant director Bill Sweeney had a warning for other coaches who might be involved in similar schemes. He said, “We have your playbook. Our investigation is ongoing.”
Ridpath, a professor of Sports Business at Ohio University, said this sent a chill through the college coaching profession.
“I think every basketball office in America, certainly at the Division I level, was very frightened and hunkered down,” Ridpath said.
Sweeney said the FBI’s ongoing investigation included setting up a tip line, which seemed to heighten the possibility of other programs being exposed. On the ESPN program “Pardon the Interruption,” co-host Tony Kornheiser said a widening FBI probe “can get 80 to 100 schools.”
Ridpath scoffed at the notion of the NCAA’s ability, or even its willingness, to uncover recruiting improprieties. By having the payroll of the enforcement staff coming from the NCAA Tournament, the NCAA has a vested interest in protecting its major schools, Ridpath said.
An NCAA investigation into similar allegations would produce “zero fear” in basketball offices, Ridpath said.
An internal review led to the resignation of Kobie Baker, an administrator in the Alabama men’s basketball program. The resignation came after The Tuscaloosa News was first to link Baker to a federal complaint about a scheme in which an incoming player would be steered to an Atlanta financial advisor once the player declared for the NBA Draft.
David Ridpath, the Drake Group president, noted that Baker previously worked for the NCAA enforcement staff.
“That just even adds almost macabre humor to the whole thing,” Ridpath said. “It’s just like, are you kidding me? You can’t make this stuff up.”
UK fan George Salyers made a fashion statement at the campout for Big Blue Madness tickets.
During the Tent City Live show Thursday night, Salyers wore a T-shirt that displayed comments about Louisville’s involvement in the ongoing FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting.
On Wednesday, Louisville began the process that is believed will result in Rick Pitino’s dismissal as basketball coach.
The front of the shirt read “RIPITINO” with Pitino’s years as Louisville coach underneath: 2001-2017.
On the back of the shirt was “University-6,” a reference to how U of L is designated in a criminal complaint made public last week.
Salyers, 30, teaches fitness and wellness at Lawrence County High School. He graduated from Morehead State.
Salyers said he had the shirt made Wednesday. “As soon as I found out he was gone, I said, ‘We’ve got to get some shirts made,’” he said. Only three were made.
When asked what sort of reaction the shirt had sparked at the Madness campout, Salyers smiled and said, “I’ve taken pictures all night.”
Leftovers from Thursday’s Tent City Live show at the Madness campout included:
▪ UK Coach John Calipari saluting the fans who camped out and those who gathered near the makeshift stage. “This is what you want as a coach,” he said. “I never have to sell a ticket. I don’t have to make you passionate. … This is what you want as a fan base.”
▪ Lingering love for Rick Pitino’s pressing, three-point shooting style of the early 1990s? The crowd mostly listened quietly as Calipari and co-hosts Dave Baker and Rex Chapman bantered. But when the UK coach said, “I believe this should be a pressing team,” a smattering of applause could be heard.
▪ Calipari saying critics are wrong to suggest UK fans want a national championship every year. “They want us to be in the hunt every year,” he said.
Perhaps no one tracked hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria any closer than Transylvania Coach Brian Lane. His Pioneers had scheduled a trip to the Caribbean for October.
The destination choices were the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
“I was watching it every morning,” Lane said of weather updates. “I was watching when I went to bed.”
Lane didn’t end up picking Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Maria. He had chosen the Dominican Republic. The Transy team will go on a four-day, four-game visit starting Oct. 14.
Transy returns four starters from a team that had a 17-10 record last season. The Pioneers lost three games to Hanover by a total of five points. Hanover eventually advanced to the Elite 8 of the Division III national tournament.
Transy lost leading scorer and all-conference player Alex Jones. Newcomers number 10 freshmen and two transfers: Trevor Hill from Eastern Kentucky and Drew Trimble from the U.S. Naval Academy.
One other distinction for Transy: It could claim to be the only college team in Kentucky last season with every player from Kentucky.
To Jeff Sheppard. He turned 43 on Friday. … To Ronnie Lyons. He turned 65 on Saturday. … To former Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. He turns 57 on Sunday (today). … To former UK women’s coach Mickie DeMoss. She turns 62 on Tuesday. … To Sheray Thomas. He turns 33 on Wednesday. … To Junior Braddy. He turns 46 on Wednesday. … To Sean Sutton, who was hired last week as an advisor on the Texas Tech staff. He turns 49 on Wednesday.