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Wednesday, March 25, 2009
When We Talk About the Seedy Underworld of Basketball


We are talking about stuff like what Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski and Dan Wetzel are describing in an exhaustive and groundbreaking investigation into expelled Connecticut recruit Nate Miles.

At one point Miles is said to be as talented as anyone Jim Calhoun as ever recruited. Now he's at the College of Southern Idaho, trying to find a back door through red tape to squeak into the D-League.

(Read the article: It's hardly a case of the UConn looking good. There are phone records that would seem to indicate a vast collection of NCAA violations. Also, this article describes a key shift in recruiting -- NBA agents working in tandem with college recruiters.)

How does this happen? You could build a thousand arguments, blaming everyone from American Society and the NCAA to UConn to Nate Miles himself.

But the thing that stands out most starkly to me is: Choose your mentors carefully. Miles' chosen mentor has been ... Josh Nochimson. Remember him? Wojnarowski and Wetzel quote Rip Hamilton on Nochimson, a former UConn student manager who was, for a time, Luol Deng's agent, until he resigned in disgrace:

Hamilton, one of the Huskies' all-time greats, had discovered alleged transgressions on an American Express card in his name but mailed to Nochimson's address. Hamilton said he then found additional funds and 1.4 million Delta frequent flier miles missing before Nochimson admitted misappropriating the money. The total came to more than $1 million, according to multiple sources.

"He admitted to stealing," Hamilton said. "He cried ... I always remember my agent saying, 'Rip, don't put your hands on him because he'll be able to sue you.

"[Nochimson] was doing everything off of me. He looks like a high roller. It's hard for a kid because you may not have anything and you see this guy."

Hamilton's discovery didn't stop UConn's contact with Nochimson. The phone calls and text messages went on well past Miles' expulsion.

Mentorship is a tough and real role. People get into it for all kinds of different reasons. And a lot of people who want to be close to talented young players are there because they want to make money from them eventually.

The best mentors are role models, doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do. They are not -- as Nochimson is reported to have done for Miles -- covering you in NCAA violations by paying for all kinds of stuff along the way. And right or not, plenty of basketball people will tell you that it's no coincidence that Miles was one of the youngsters who ran into legal trouble with a young woman. Poor mentorship pops up in a lot of different ways.

The best mentors are gifted at getting young players to embrace the importance of being a decent person, of having a plan to succeed after basketball, and delaying gratification. You do all that stuff, and success takes care of itself. And if you start young, you work and work and work, and then you get the goodies.

There's a saying about that, right? Everybody wants to make the quick nickel, instead of the slow dime.

The good mentors will keep you focused on that slow dime.