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The Federal Bureau of Investigation turned the college basketball world upside down Tuesday at a press conference in New York City. Four assistant coaches were arrested on federal charges of bribery and fraud, including Auburn’s Chuck ‘The Rifleman’ Person, Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans, USC’s Tony Bland and Arizona’s Emanuel Richardson.
Four other individuals were also arrested, including agents, financial planners and Adidas employees. At FBI headquarters on Tuesday, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said, “Fraud and corruption in the world of college basketball. If you yourself engaged in these activities, I’d encourage you to call us. I think it’s better than us calling you.”
There were three complaints filed by the Dept. of Justice. One detailed a $100,000 payment by “University 6,” which was easily identified to be Louisville. The payment was for five-star recruit Brian Bowen, who signed with U of L in June.
When Kim was done at the podium, FBI assistant director Bill Sweeney said, “Our investigation is ongoing. And we are currently conducting interviews.”
This investigation started in 2015, and nobody – not even the NCAA – knew a thing about it until Tuesday. It started with a financial planner getting caught up in a securities fraud case. This individual rolled over, brought an undercover FBI agent into the mix and before you know it, the FBI agent was wearing a wire while posing as the financial planner’s assistant for meetings with agents, AAU coaches and college assistant coaches.
I’m no lawyer, but it’s clear what’s going on here. The FBI could care less about the four assistants it arrested yesterday. Facing significant jail time and an additional felony charge for each lie to Dept. of Justice officials, the college assistants are highly likely to provide information galore.
What happened yesterday is only surprising in that the government is now involved. College basketball recruiting has been a cesspool of sordid individuals for decades. Agents, runners, low-life locals preying upon kids with basketball talent from the time they were in middle school in an effort to eventually profit from the relationship.
Remember, the NCAA has no subpoena power so even though it has been aware of these sorts of activities for decades, it usually can’t act unless major mistakes are made by those committing NCAA violations.
More dominos are going to fall but the first went down in Louisville this morning. The legendary career of Rick Pitino has ended in disgrace. Pitino, who burst into the national spotlight 30 years and six months ago by guiding a Providence team led by Billy ‘The Kid’ Donovan to the 1987 Final Four in New Orleans, was promptly pink-slipped upon arriving on campus today.
Pitino’s attorney Steve Pence confirmed to multiple media outlets that his client was “effectively fired,” although interim President Greg Postel described it as being “placed on unpaid administrative leave.” The only reason for that verbiage is a clause in Pitino’s contract that says he must be given 10 days’ prior notice and “an opportunity to be heard.”
Tom Jurich, U of L’s AD for 20 years, was placed on paid administrative leave. In other words, he’s also been dismissed. Jurich reportedly was told to fire Pitino this morning and when he refused, he was asked to resign himself. Jurich reportedly refused to do because he claimed he had done nothing wrong, and then he was fired as well.
Jurich built Louisville into a powerhouse over the last two decades, upgrading the school’s facilities to compete nationally in football and helping the school get into the ACC. He also was critical in getting a new basketball arena – the KFC Yum! Center – built to replace an aging Freedom Hall.
But Jurich’s downfall was his loyalty to Pitino, who had somehow survived two major scandals in his 16-year tenure at the school. I’m talking about two scandals before Tuesday’s news broke. In 2009, Pitino was the target of an extortion attempt by the wife of a member of his staff.
As it turned out, Pitino had an extramarital affair with Karen Sypher, who was found guilty and sentenced to more than seven years in prison. Pitino had to testify at the trial, revealing that he paid $3,000 for Sypher to get an abortion a few months after having sex with her “briefly, for only 15 seconds or so” at a Louisville restaurant.
Then in 2015, another scandal broke detailing how Louisville recruits were entertained by strippers and hookers. Pitino claimed to know nothing and blamed everything on U of L staffer and former player, Andre McGee, who was alleged to have paid cash for strippers and prostitutes to dance and have sex with recruits in the team’s dorm.
These allegations were made in a book, “Breaking Cardinal Rules,” by Katina Powell. In June, the NCAA suspended Pitino for the first five ACC games of this upcoming season and stripped the school of its 2013 national championship in men’s basketball. The school is appealing this decision.
Pitino had a decent run with the New York Knicks after getting that job following his success at Providence. When he was fired by the Knicks, he took the Kentucky job shortly after the school was rocked by NCAA violations that left UK hoops on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline, “Kentucky’s Shame.”
Pitino led UK back to prominence, leading his team to a 22-6 record in his second season. The Wildcats were banned from postseason play during the first two years of his tenure. In his third campaign at UK, Pitino’s four seniors – Deron Feldhaus, Sean Woods, Richie Farmer and John Pelphrey, a foursome known in UK lore as ‘The Unforgettables’ – and Jamal Mashburn led the ‘Cats to the East Region finals.
UK faced the defending national champs in that 1992 Elite Eight game at the old Spectrum in Philadelphia. Duke’s Christian Laettner played the perfect game, making all 10 of his shots from both the field and the free-throw line. But in overtime of this epic contest that most, including This Guy, call the greatest game in college basketball history, Woods hit a running leaner in the paint that kissed home off the glass to put UK ahead by one with 2.1 seconds left.
After a timeout, Pitino infamously decided not to guard the ball to distract Grant Hill from his length-of-the-floor pass. That pass was caught by Laettner, who had the unfathomable arrogance and audacity to take one dribble and make a slight spin move while gathering himself for a fadeaway jumper that he released just barely before the horn sounded. The historic shot caught nothing but nylon, lifting Duke to the Final Four where it repeated as national champs.
The entire state of Kentucky went into mourning. Days later, at a celebration of the 1992 team in front of a jam-packed Rupp Arena crowd, ‘The Unforgettables’ saw their jerseys hung from the rafters, where they remain to this day next to other UK greats who had their numbers retired.
In the next five seasons, Pitino would take the ‘Cats to three Final Fours, winning his first national title 1996 with one of the greatest teams ever assembled. After losing to Arizona in overtime of the 1997 national-title game, Pitino’s pride to prove he could be successful in the NBA led him to accept a record contract to be the head coach and GM of the Boston Celtics.
It was a terrible decision. He left Boston in disgrace after failing to garner any trips to the postseason. The Celtics had a 102-146 record under Pitino from 1997 to 2001.
His 16-year stay at U of L began in 2001. Pitino took the Cardinals to 13 NCAA Tournaments, three Final Fours and one national title, which, as previously noted, has been stripped by the NCAA pending an appeal. His record at U of L was 416-141. Pitino’s career in college hoops will end with a 770-269 ledger (74.1%).
And make no mistake, it is over. He’ll never have a job in basketball outside of television.
Pitino is already in the Hall of Fame, but perhaps the Hall of Shame would be more fitting? His career will be remembered more for his arrogance and his failures – both with the Celtics and the drama he brought to his family and the U of L basketball program, which he leaves in a mess and facing serious NCAA sanctions.
Another huge development at Louisville is the status of head football coach Bobby Petrino, who is familiar with scandals himself. In his contract, his buyout is reduced to $4.25 million if Jurich leaves the school, as reported by USA Today this morning. This will have several, perhaps as many as a half-dozen, SEC schools interested in hiring Petrino, who will leap at such an opportunity with his biggest fan in Jurich no longer around.
Also, Auburn offered all of its season-ticket purchasers full refunds early this morning. Obviously, this means that Bruce Pearl’s tenure – and perhaps that of AD Jay Jacobs as well – at Auburn will almost certainly be coming to an end soon, possibly as early as today.
College basketball was turned on its head yesterday, and it’ll never be the same again. And that’s a good thing, a development long overdue.