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Monday, April 25, 2011
Iowa takes a chance on former felon

By Eamonn Brennan

That headline is 100 percent true, but it's also a little deceptive. Fact is, there's no way to quickly phrase the story of Anthony Hubbard -- a 26-year-old former felon who has since resurrected his life after serving almost four years in prison for his conviction related to an armed robbery he committed at the the age of 18 -- and get the full picture.

On Saturday, Hubbard signed a letter of intent to play basketball at Iowa. This is a remarkable accomplishment. considering the depths Hubbard has experienced since his grave mistake as a teenager. In December 2003, Hubbard reportedly drove a car and served as a lookout for three acquaintances, who entered a home and robbed an elderly resident at gunpoint. Hubbard turned himself in three days later. He served three years and 11 months in prison -- he was denied parole three times -- before his release.

Even more remarkable? Hubbard didn't play high school basketball. After his release from prison, a friend tried to get him a shot playing basketball for Frederick Community College in Maryland. After spending a year playing for Odessa Junior College in Texas -- Frederick coaches wanted Hubbard to focus on his grades for a year -- Hubbard returned to Frederick, and it's been all uphill from there. In 2011, the 6-foot-5, 210 pound wing averaged 20.7 points (on 64 percent shooting from the field), 10.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists.

Those kind of numbers are like catnip to talented-bereft college coaches, so it was no surprise when a handful of big-name schools came calling. But would anyone take a risk on a player with Hubbard's past? How could Fran McCaffery be sure he wasn't making a grave mistake? The answer, apparently, comes down to homework -- and some very strong recommendations from Hubbard's current coaches. From the Cedar Rapids Gazette:
“I heard that he was a really good player,” McCaffery said. “I didn’t really know anything about him. So of course we followed up on that. His coach [Dave Miller] immediately told me what happened and said, ‘What I have to tell you is if he wanted to date my daughter, it would be OK with me. That’s how much I think of him. I’ve never had any problems with him. I recommend him without reservation.’

“So then of course we made sure folks here were at least comfortable pursuing that. So we needed to do our homework, and we did. We needed to get him here and meet everybody. We were satisfied after we completed our due diligence that he’s somebody we’d like to have in our program.”

Hubbard's former coach Miller vouched for his player's personal development, telling the Gazette that he believed Hubbard's past had made the guard a "much better person." For his part, Hubbard says he has been open about his past -- and what that past means for the person he has become. From my hometown paper, the Quad-City Times:
"I have nothing to hide. I've been straight up with everybody,'' Hubbard said. "What I've been through, it made me grow up. It made me the person I am today.'' That's among the reasons Hubbard chose to make his announcement Saturday at the youth club near his hometown of Woodbridge, Va. "I've spent a lot of time the past couple of years working with kids, trying to help them not make the same mistakes I made,'' Hubbard said. "If I can help one kid stay out of trouble, it's been time well spent.''

See? Not so simple, is it?

Naturally, there's always risk associated with believing in this sort of story. There's risk for McCaffery, who took Hubbard on despite that big, ugly "felon" tag attached to his new player's name. There's risk for Iowa fans, who might wonder whether their new player's talent is really worth the risk. (And who are just a few years removed from the Pierre Pierce era, when former coach Steve Alford gave his star a second chance that ended in legal disaster.) Of course, there's also risk associated for people like me, who simply want to believe that a redemption song like this one can follow through on its promise of a happy ending.

All signs point to yes. Now, it's up to Hubbard to do the rest. As far as happy endings go, though, "signing a scholarship offer with a Division I program" is an awfully good place to start.

(Hat tip: Norlander)