Sunday, March 1, 2015

Connecticut's mess

A nasty recruiting scandal explodes in Storrs.

Connecticut's mess

I only just now got around to reading Yahoo! Sports' exposé on the NCAA rules Connecticut violated in recruiting guard Nate Miles. I suspect a number of you have seen it already today but as I write this there is about to be a press conference in Storrs to address the mater.

The story is really deep, and includes a segment of the cell phone records that Yahoo! used to prove the existence of illegal contact between Miles and Tom Moore, a former UConn assistant who is now the head coach at Quinnipiac.

The other protagonist in the story is Josh Nochimson, a professional sports agent and former student manager for the Huskies. Nochimson provided Miles with a number of illegal benefits including lodging, transportation and meals.

(Nochimson also got caught stealing over $1 million worth of cash and frequent-flier miles from Richard Hamilton when he was Hamilton's NBA agent. Keep that in mind as you read all this.)

From the institutional side of things, the problem is compounded by the report that Connecticut was aware of the contact between Nochimson and Miles throughout their recruitment of Miles, as summed up in this paragraph:

The UConn basketball staff was in constant contact with Nochimson during a nearly two-year period up to and after Miles’ recruitment. Five different UConn coaches traded at least 1,565 phone and text communications with Nochimson, including 16 from head coach Jim Calhoun.

In addition to the benefits Nochimson provided, Connecticut as an institution is in trouble for exceeding the NCAA's limits on phone calls to Miles and people close to him.

The story recaps how Miles eventually got to Storrs, then was kicked out of the school after violating a restraining order placed on him after being charged with sexual assault. After being ruled ineligible to join the NBA's D-League, Miles enrolled at the College of Southern Idaho, a junior college that competes in the National Junior College Athletic Association.

Except that's not the end of it, according to the article:

Because of NCAA transfer rules, UConn is Miles’ only Division-I option for the 2009-10 season.

Since his expulsion, the UConn coaching staff has continued recruiting Miles, College of Southern Idaho coach Steve Gosar said.

Um. Not quite the same as illegally using phone cards, is it?

Calhoun arrived at the podium in Glendale, Ariz., where Connecticut is preparing to play Purdue in the West Regionals semifinals tomorrow night, just after 4:30 this afternoon.

He offered a general statement, the main point of which seemed to be that Miles was cleared by the NCAA and is no longer at the school. I have a hunch, though, that Calhoun will not be able to wash his hands of this matter so easily.

It's also notable that Calhoun said multiple times the story ran in a newspapers, before finally correcting himself and saying it was on "a blog story, I guess, that appeared on something that I probably can't get a hold of, which is Yahoo!"

(The exclamation point refers to the company name, not Calhoun's tone of voice.)

Say what you will about the current state of internet journalism, but Yahoo! Sports is no blog and Adrian Wojarnowski and Dan Wetzel are no bloggers.

You can read a transcript of Calhoun's remarks below.

In the meantime, a question for you to ponder. In your opinion, which coaches in college basketball are the most honest? Are there any?

And doesn't it make the six programs around here look better when you can only remember one NCAA violation of consequence in this decade?

Yes, there have been scandals, so don't think I'm forgetting what went on at La Salle a few years back or the Temple-St. Joe's "Goongate" fracas. But other than the aforementioned Villanova phone cards, I can't recall the NCAA getting involved with any of the local schools in a while. This news about Connecticut is at a different scale.

Or is it? Would it have registered like this in another month of the year?

Let me know what you think.


Here's the transcript of Calhoun's remarks on the Miles controversy this afternoon, as recorded by ASAP Sports:

COACH CALHOUN: The best thing to do is really to address any situation that came to light. I heard about something last night about 11:00, 12:00.

The points I put down, the University is taking any allegations towards its program or newspaper reports or anything else very responsible and tries to live under the responsibility of the NCAA rules.

I have been in touch with our athletic director at 5:30 Phoenix time, around 8:00, and then right before we left for practice. We are going to -- the University is going to look into any matter, as we would, when we hear light of something with regards to we think it still falls under the guidelines of making sure that we are being compliant.

Secondly, there are no current student-athletes involved in this story.

Third, the University worked very closely with our compliance people, with an outside agency -- legal agency and obviously with the NCAA eligibility center. And it was determined that the student-athlete was fully eligible for his freshman year, ready to go and passed all those various tests that they ask you to pass.

The student-athlete departed UConn. And the reason I mention this prior to any competition because there is no problem now with games or what happened during those particular games, nor should there be. At least I don't think so. Beyond that, I really don't have any other comment about it.

It is a newspaper story that -- it wasn't the newspaper. It was a blog story, I guess, that appeared on something that I probably can't get ahold of which is Yahoo!. Very simply, my comments are just what I said. Student-athlete is not involved with our program, he was cleared by the compliance people, an outside source -- legal source and the NCAA. So something was written. We take very seriously our responsibility as NCAA members. And as we speak and as of 5:30 this morning, 8:30 back Boston time, Jeff was working to look into whatever was put forward on that blog, I guess.

Beyond that, I don't really have any other questions. That's it. It is that simple. We sent something out to give you an idea of what we are doing now, and there won't be updates because we are going to look into it and decide exactly what parts of those things, do they or do they not affect us and we will take it from there.

I want to talk about Purdue because that's really the only thing right now that I can control. I can't control what people say, do or act to us or say about us. All I can do is really just control about how we play basketball on the court against Purdue tomorrow at roughly 4:00, 4:10. We are looking forward to that.

[...]

Q. Just the situation that came out this morning, could that be a distraction to you or the players at all? How do you guard against it?

COACH CALHOUN: I can't tell you anything about it. I can only control the things I can control. I do try to control the officials. That's different, they are part of the game.

I'm really much more worried that I think Moore is a terrific player. I think Johnson has got a chance to be a very special player. And then everybody -- I don't even like to -- Robbie Hummel and Chris Kramer, are Chip Hilton Jr. and Sr., and they play like that. Hummel is a terrific, terrific basketball player. And Kramer plays five points a game until you watch the tape. Every loose ball, it is his. Every tip, it is his. He is a great defensive basketball player.

So I worry much more about that than I do about the other things. I think every time, even in Philadelphia there was a distraction of me not being there to some degree. And our kids, once again, we talked this morning at breakfast about what opportunity we have. We don't want to ever look back upon this and say we didn't give it our best.

Purdue is an enough of a team to handle. I think Moore is terrific, one of the best guys we will play against all year. The other thing about them is that you are in for a fight. You are in for a very physical fight. There are no score, it appears, to Purdue. They just play and they play exceptionally hard.

They are one of the better teams you face. We may have played -- may have, I don't know this -- more talented teams. We will find this out tomorrow. I don't know if we have played more united teams in a single style of basketball, which is to come at you for 40 minutes both defensively and offensively.

[...]

Q. Jim, I know you can't control the Yahoo! story, but can you tell me out how you addressed it with your team, basically what you said.

COACH CALHOUN: Yeah, basically I said to them, simply, fellows, you probably are going to see something on TV, a couple different things. It is something that occurred a year or two ago, whatever it may be.

Just to let you know very simply, the University is taking very good care of it. They will look into it. As far as we're concerned and I'm concerned, we are here to beat Purdue and I want you to know that. If you vary from that, like I said before with opportunity, you will look back and say "I was worried about something that didn't really affect me one way or the other" and yet we let opportunities slip by.

The one thing in life all of us shall I think we have experienced this -- you only get so many opportunities, you only get so many times. You get beat by a buzzer beater and you go home. You play them well, you advance and your team appears to be getting better, it is a great opportunity for us.

And so that's basically the kind of things that we talk to the kids about, and then we shut it off. I think the kids right now, they are talking about can we go to the Phoenix Suns game tonight. I think they are really looking at other things, where are we going to eat, all of those type of things. I think they are focused on what they have to do tomorrow to get to Saturday. That will be hard to do.

I have a great deal of respect for Matt. I have coached against him at the Springfield Civic Center in Glenn Robinson's opening game. Donyell got hurt and taken to the hospital. Glenn led us up to 30. Matt led a solid floor game, I told him. That's the old expression when you don't get a lot of points if you played pretty well.

Q. It is one thing what you said there, but these are 19-, 20-, 21-year-old kids. How exactly do you keep that from being a distraction?

COACH CALHOUN: You do the best you can. I think the one reason I have been able to coach for 37 years and a lot of things have happened. When you coach -- you start coaching in college in 1972 and you start thinking about all the various things culturally that are going on in the city of Boston, for example, at that time, a lot of things happen, sit-ins and you go right through all the various things that we've had, an awful lot of things that I didn't have control over at that point in time we had to handle.

I think that hopefully those years of experience would come to the front here that we can keep our kids focused on what we are going to do and let them understand that the University led by Jeff Hathaway would handle anything else that needs to be handled. We can't do anything about it.

The only thing we can do is play basketball and hopefully advance our way to Saturday.

Q. I was wondering if you could characterize your relationship at all with Josh, the former team manager.

COACH CALHOUN: I'm not going to speak about any individual. He was with our program for six years, got his master's degree. Beyond that, while he was in our program, he was a good kid, worked hard, et cetera. That was my relationship with him during that particular point in time. I have a very close relationship with Rip, going to Rip's wedding in June as a matter of fact. But that's basically my characterization. I don't want to go into detail as far as anything else.

Q. Obviously guarding against your players is one thing, but for you, getting that message last night at 11:00 at night, it is obviously very serious allegations that reflect, fairly or not, on you. How do you handle this?

COACH CALHOUN: The best way I can. Do you like getting that message? No. Do you like having someone just say -- just talking to your athletic director at 5:30 in the morning. I want to talk to him about other things. I want to talk to George really about should we use the pick-and-roll.

Hopefully, once again, I have been through a couple things in my life, I have learned how to stand up to those. Once again, I have no control over some things that have happened to me from my father's death to -- once again, this is nothing like that -- but all various things that have happened in my lifetime.

All I know is to go forward, stand up and be counted. That's exactly what I plan to do and get my team as ready as I possibly can to play Purdue tomorrow night. That's what I know how to do. That's what I have been taught by my dad, by my mom. My family has been taught that. My two sons have been taught the exact same thing. We got to go forward. We can't dwell on anything that was said, not said, make any evaluation of it except let other people who can at this particular point in time look into what they need look into.

Jonathan Tannenwald Sports Producer
About this blog
Soft Pretzel Logic is Philly.com's college sports blog, with a primary focus on the University of Pennsylvania. You'll also see coverage of the Big 5, other major college sports events in the region, and the annual Penn Relays track and field meet.

Jonathan Tannenwald Sports Producer
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