College Basketball Nation: Tom Penders

First, a recap: On Sunday night, CBS reported the apparent suicide of David Salinas, a Houston-area financial manager who "doubled as the founder of a prominent Houston-area summer basketball program," Houston Select. The suicide apparently came on the heels of a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into Salinas' investment practices for his investment fund, J. David Financial Group, practices which may have cost a score of college basketball coaches millions of dollars.

The fallout could be devastating for the coaches involved, which include former Arizona coach Lute Olson, Baylor coach Scott Drew, Texas Tech coach Billy Gillispie and Gonzaga assistant Ray Giacoletti, among others. If the investigation unearths a connection between investments and access to talent -- several of Salinas's players ended up playing for the coaches on the list of investors -- then repercussions from the NCAA could be soon to follow.

At best, a score of coaches invested their money in what appears to be a ponzi scheme. At worst, they did so in exchange for the ability to recruit players from Salinas' program. The first implication is embarrassing; the second could be downright explosive.

At the very least, it's a story that is bound to metastasize continually in the coming weeks and months. In fact, that process has already begun. On Monday, in the wake of the original report, former Houston coach Tom Penders told The Daily's Dan Wolken that Salinas approached him and made "a strong, strong implication" that investing would increase Penders's access to recruits:
“He talked about all these coaches that he had investing with him,” the former University of Houston coach told The Daily last night. “I told him because he was an AAU guy, I couldn’t possibly get involved in that. I said, ‘I think that’s kind of a rules violation, or could be.’ ” Penders, now retired, told The Daily that Salinas solicited him for a $100,000 investment in their first meeting and “made a strong, strong implication” that it would help Houston gain access to prospects that were part of the Houston Select, an AAU program that Salinas founded.

Amusingly, Penders also said he had no idea why college coaches -- who are "supposed to be street smart," to use his phrasing -- decided to invest money with an AAU program founder in the first place. Valid question, Tom. One can safely assume the NCAA Committee on Infractions will be wondering the exact same thing.

In the meantime, the coaches implicated in the budding scandal have all either confirmed their involvement or refrained from commenting. Only one, former Duquesne and Nebraska coach Danny Nee, openly issued a denial. Speaking with the Omaha World-Herald, Nee said:
“Whatever they said I did, I didn’t do,” Nee said. He called Salinas “a good friend.” “It’s a sad loss,” Nee said.

Today, CBS's Gary Parrish followed up with this:
Why did we report that?

Because a source provided us with a brochure from Select Asset Management, LLC -- another Houston-area investment firm that's run by Houston Select co-founder Brian Bjork and is associated with J. David Financial Group. The brochure features a "testimonial" from Nee, now the head coach at the United States Merchant Marine Academy. The testimonial reads: "I have been a client with J. David Financial Group since I was referred to them in 1995-96. After several financial planning sessions, I became very comfortable with their long-term visions and investment style. More importantly, I marvel at their track record in both up and down markets."

In other words, we stand by our report.

Note to the other coaches implicated in this mess: If your name and testimonial is on a J. David Financial Group brochure, it's probably best to come clean. Failing that, issue a quiet "no comment" and go on your way. This thing is going to get much worse before it gets any better.

Tom Penders makes a meaningful donation

November, 4, 2010
When Tom Penders resigned at Houston in March, he insisted the decision was his and that he wasn't being forced out after six seasons, telling reporters his biggest disappointment was actually the fact that not every player from the program had graduated.

To his credit, Penders is putting his money where his mouth is.

Houston has announced that Penders and his wife donated $20,000 to the school's student-athlete academic services, with the money being used toward hiring additional part-time staff and the purchase of laptop computers.

"This gift is a way of giving back to a great university that gave me the privilege to coach its basketball team for six years," Penders said in a statement.

"I have asked to direct this gift towards academic support because that has always been a priority for me."

It's a generous donation considering too many coaches treat academics as a way to merely get their players eligible and ward off penalties.

In this case, Penders is giving money to academics when he's no longer even a part of the program.

Larry Scott borrowing Pat Kilkenny's jet

June, 14, 2010
As former Oregon athletic director Pat Kilkenny spent weeks conducting a search for a new basketball coach, reporters were able to track his private jet for clues as to where he might be headed and who he might be speaking with.

That same plane is reportedly now being used by Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott while he goes around conducting the business of conference expansion.

According to The Oregonian:
Pacific-10 Conference Commissioner Larry Scott spent the weekend borrowing Kilkenny’s jet, brokering the deal that will change the landscape of college football.

On Saturday he flew from Concord, Calif., to Oklahoma City, where he met with officials from Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Then on Sunday it went from Oklahoma City into Texas, where it landed in College Station (Texas A&M) before continuing on to Lubbock (Texas Tech) and then on to Austin (Texas).

Of course, tracking the locations and destinations of someone's plane is no guarantee of anything. In Kilkenny's case, that was cause for some wild speculation in the media.

Here's what Nike co-founder and chairman Phil Knight told The Register-Guard:
In that vein, Knight said, "the one that was the best" was a report by another newspaper which, apparently tracking Kilkenny’s private jet, reported that Kilkenny had flown from New York to Houston, where it was speculated he might be interviewing Baylor’s Scott Drew, Houston Rockets coach Rick Adelman or recently resigned Houston coach Tom Penders.

Instead, Knight contended, Kilkenny was simply stopping to pick up a friend before continuing to Portland. "He never even got off his plane," Knight said.
Phew. Yesterday and today feel a little bit like off days after the madness of the first two rounds of the tournament. In that vein, what better time to take a link-bound look around the college hoopsosphere? We'll be in the midst of too much good basketball in just a day's time; now is our only time to reflect.

Report: Houston's Penders to resign

March, 21, 2010
Tom Penders will resign as Houston's coach days after the team was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament, according to the Houston Chronicle:
The Penders era will come to an official end on Monday, when he announces his resignation after six seasons at UH.

A prominent UH insider said Penders’ resignation was the byproduct of “a positive” meeting with athletic director Mack Rhoades on Sunday afternoon. Rhoades would not comment on the matter, saying only, “There will be an announcement regarding the future of the men’s basketball program in the near future.”

Penders, who has a 121-77 record (.611) in six seasons at UH, was not available for comment.
Houston capped off its unlikely run to the C-USA title game earlier this afternoon, and we've already been over the most important piece of detritus from the Cougars' championship fallout: the bubble.

What was less obvious at the time is that with the win, Houston coach Tom Penders might just have saved his job. Penders isn't exactly a hot seat name you'd have heard with any regularity preceding today. Talk about timing.

Houston's Culture Map explains:
It became so bad, so apparent that Penders' end was here, that reports that he'd retire (in no small part to save face) started making the rounds, with some of them reportedly coming from unknown sources within the University of Houston's athletic department. SNY basketball commentator Adam Zagoria tweeted that former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie was a leading candidate to replace Penders.

Everyone knew that Penders was going to be fired, terminated, kicked to the curb, "encouraged" to retire. UH basketball fans openly bantered the names of possible successors around on the message boards.

Most of the anti-Penders sentiment stemmed from the Cougars' inability to advance past the semifinal round of the Conference USA tournament in Penders' five years. Houston won more than 18 games in each of the journeyman's first five seasons, but in C-USA, that's not enough; you have to dominate your conference or win the conference tournament, something none of Penders' teams had approached in his tenure at the school. The only reason Penders might have stayed without a win today is if Houston administrators decided they didn't want to pay off the rest of the coach's contract. He had no one in his corner.

Now? Given the contract concerns, Houston almost has to keep the coach. After all, Penders just got the Cougars to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1992. But you can forgive Houston fans for feeling a little conflicted. Before this week, Penders had six years of relative failure on his Houston résumé. Now he has six years of relative failure plus one week of euphoric success. Cougars fans can enjoy the moment, but will they be just as happy if Penders falls flat next season?