Oct 17, 2010

Midnight Madness
With the official start of practice for NCAA teams, several of the boys from Play Their Hearts Out began their freshman or sophomore seasons. Here is a photo from the Las Vegas Sun of one of those players: Justin Hawkins, who is a sophomore at UNLV. Anyone who has read the book knows that Justin is one of the truly great kids playing in college today.

Oct 7, 2010

UCLA and Ohio State NCAA Violations

Play Their Hearts Out is not a book loaded with "gotcha" newsbreaks. It is an eight-year journey, and along the way some events and conversations may surprise people, but these aren't the kind of revelations that lead to big headlines.

There are two bits of news, however, that I feel should be addressed by those involved, and I am curious to see if the local media that cover UCLA and Ohio State take note.

In chapter 31 (Yes, I know, there are a lot of chapter in PTHO), I detail the different ways some of the boys were recruited by colleges. One of the players I focus on is Roberto Nelson, who is now at Oregon State. Roberto was the most sought after of the boys and UCLA and Ohio State were among his suitors. Each school committed an NCAA violation while pursuing him, which I describe on pages 376 & 377. Here is the relevant passage:

The Bruins recruited Roberto hard – they made phone calls, sent emails, scouted his AAU games – but as his junior year began, he had yet to be formally offered a scholarship. Coach Ben Howland told Bruce Nelson he was concerned about Roberto's grades and wanted to see how he scored on the SAT. Howland's hesitancy probably had more to do with wanting to see how Roberto and other players developed; no sense in offering him a scholarship before it was necessary.  That didn't stop Howard from committing an NCAA violation regarding permissible contact. In certain months, coaches are allowed to call a recruit or his family only once. In one of these months, and after a UCLA coach had already spoken to Roberto, Howland called Bruce. "I didn't know it was him until I answered the phone because the number had a Santa Barbara area code," Bruce said. "Ben said he was up in Santa Barbara visiting people, and we talked about maybe getting together while he was in town." Howland had never called Bruce from a Santa Barbara number before. "I guess he knew that if used his UCLA phone, then people could find out he called me."

Ohio State didn't couch their interest in Roberto. Coach Thad Matta offered him a scholarship when he visited campus for the Ohio State-Michigan football game in November, and one of assistants began working with Bruce to make sure Roberto had the course credits he needed to be eligible to play for the Buckeyes as a freshman. He reviewed Roberto's transcripts and advised Bruce on what summer school courses Roberto should take. Like UCLA, Ohio State also violated an NCAA rule pursuing Roberto: Former Ohio State player and CBS college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg called Bruce and lobbied on behalf of his alma mater. (As a former Ohio State player he was forbidden under NCAA guidelines from contacting recruits or their families.) "I heard that the missing piece to the puzzle was a kid in California," Kellogg told Bruce.

I realize these allegations aren't going to set off alarm bells at the NCAA, but it would be interesting to hear a response from UCLA and Ohio State.


Oct 3, 2010

Joe then and now

I got a call from Joe Keller the other day after he read the excerpt from Play Their Hearts Out in Sports Illustrated. I knew this call was coming, the conversation when Joe would curse and threaten me (with a lawsuit). I expected it to come after he read the entire book, but all it took was the excerpt. Joe is reading the book now, I assume, as I Fedexed a copy to him last week. It will be interesting to see if he calls me again.

Joe is not the same person today that he was when I started following him in 2000 or when he dropped out of the narrative in 2007, and I think that will contribute to his dissatisfaction with how he is portrayed in the book. He is calmer now, less competitive, not so blinded by his ambitions. He has reached his goals, and that has mellowed him. He’s likely to read PTHO and say, “That’s not me!” and he wouldn’t be wrong. But in the period of time covered in the book, when Joe rose up in grassroots basketball and found financial success, he was not always likeable. He got dirty on his way to the top, and I couldn’t sugarcoat that in the narrative.

I like Joe much more now than when I first met him – our conversations aren’t so one-sided and he’s more reflective – yet I doubt we will be talking much going forward. The book is filled with stories of Joe casting away players and other people he didn’t need anymore or who burned him.

Sadly, I think it may be my turn.