Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Updated: May 6, 10:20 AM ET
Bulldogs take ride on Sidney tour
By Pat Forde
I read several stories about Renardo Sidney on Monday, and it made me think of Mitch Albom.
Not because Albom is involved in the 6-foot-10 Los Angeles basketball player's recruiting melodrama, the latest installment of which has Sidney suddenly signing a letter of intent with Mississippi State. I thought of Albom because he wrote a book titled, "The Five People You Meet in Heaven."
And after reading this latest story of sketchiness on the recruiting trail, it became obvious there are certain recurring themes here. Or at least recurring characters. Thus, with apologies to Albom, we have "The Five People You Meet in Recruiting Hell."
No. 1: The Shoe Rep
In this case, reps. Plural. Past and present. We have the godfather of the shoe-rep-as-power-broker movement, Sonny Vaccaro. And we have current Reebok rep Chris Rivers.
Vaccaro is now out of the shoe game but hardly without influence in the basketball world, as evidenced by his role in helping San Diego high school junior Jeremy Tyler recently decide to play pro ball in Europe. Vaccaro helped move Sidney and his family from Mississippi to Los Angeles in summer 2006. By his own admission, Vaccaro helped bankroll the move.
He was still with Reebok then. Now he's not, and apparently he has fallen out of influence with the Sidneys.
How do we know this? Because Vaccaro could excuse an ax murderer if he had a stake in doing so -- but he threw suspicion on the Sidneys in a story Monday in the Los Angeles Times. Vaccaro broadly insinuated the Sidneys' unmodest L.A. lifestyle (the Times reported that one of the houses the family occupied is valued at $1.2 million) was hardly the result of familial thrift and hard work.
Meanwhile, Rivers is the shoe rep who attended Sidney's ostentatious announcement at Fairfax High School that he was making a verbal commitment to USC. That was in February. Reebok and Rivers helped fund Sidney's AAU team -- which, serendipitously, is led by his dad.
Since that February commitment, either Sidney decommitted from the school or the school decommitted from him, depending on whom you believe.
According to the L.A. Times story, sources at both USC and UCLA said their schools backed away because Sidney was radioactive -- a de facto pro who would never gain college eligibility. That was vigorously disputed to ESPN.com by one of the other five people you meet in recruiting hell, but more on that later.
For now, Rivers remains in the Sidney camp. Because, certainly, every teenager worth his spin move needs a shoe rep in his camp.
No. 2: The Sketchy AAU Coach
Before his dad got his own team, Sidney played his AAU ball in 2007 for Pat Barrett, a nostalgic name on the scammer circuit.
Barrett became nationally known way back in 1990, when Alexander Wolff and Armen Keteyian wrote "Raw Recruits," a seminal book on the seamy recruiting practices in college basketball. In that book, no less honorable a coach than Jerry Tarkanian called Barrett "the biggest whore I ever met" for trying to ride the coattails of a hot prospect named Tom Lewis to a coaching job. And Tark wasn't the only one taking shots at Barrett over the recruitment of Lewis.
"Pat wanted a job, but he didn't want to show up," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told Wolff and Keteyian.
More recently, Yahoo! reported that Barrett received $250,000 from a sports agency, Ceruzzi Sports and Entertainment, for his help in signing Kevin Love as a client.
Always nice to see an AAU guy with staying power, isn't it?
No. 3: The Family Representative
|Renardo Sidney could be a game-changer for Mississippi State if he's eligible.|
Nobody speaks for themselves anymore when recruiting gets controversial. Instead, they go find a mouthpiece.
Say hello to Montgomery, Ala., attorney Donald Jackson, another veteran of recruiting controversies past. He says he's been retained by the Sidneys as their lawyer. And he has plenty else to say.
Jackson told ESPN.com on Monday that the L.A. Times story is a pile of bunk built on the anonymous assertions of scorned schools. He says the Trojans and Bruins didn't so much pull out of recruiting Sidney as they were kicked out by a young man no longer interested in either school.
"Sour grapes," Jackson said. "They stopped recruiting him after he notified them that he intended to sign a letter of intent with Mississippi State.
[The Sidneys] have received no inappropriate benefits from anybody."
Jackson also fired a shot at Vaccaro: "Sonny has virtually no knowledge of anything respecting the Sidneys since they moved to California.
Sonny's not credible about much of anything these days."
Jackson said his client has violated no NCAA amateurism bylaws and should be in a Mississippi State uniform in the fall. Unless his old sparring partners in the NCAA eligibility office go into a four-corners stall, he said.
Jackson said the NCAA has a history of dragging out eligibility cases so they serve as "sort of a suspension without calling it a suspension." But he added that he hopes some personnel changes at the NCAA might alleviate some of that -- specifically the absence of Bill Saum, with whom Jackson often collided while fighting for the eligibility of former Mississippi State center Mario Austin and former Louisville center Marvin Stone.
But Jackson's name is known in basketball circles for another reason as well. He's the adoptive father of Mali immigrant Ousmane Cisse. You might remember him for one of the most ill-advised decisions in NBA draft history, in which Jackson counseled Cisse to go pro out of high school in 2001 just months after tearing the ACL in his knee.
Cisse was a second-round pick (47th overall) of the Denver Nuggets and briefly a member of the Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors. According to NBA records, he never played in a regular-season game. He's been playing in Israel for the past four years.
No. 4: The Crisis Interventionist
Mississippi State has retained the superstar attorney of NCAA troubleshooting, Mike Glazier, a veteran university counsel in many scandals and investigations (see Oklahoma, Louisville and Villanova, among others). You know that when Glazier's name shows up, the situation has the potential to get hairy.
Nevertheless, Mississippi State administrators believe they're in a good position at this point. They say the school has done nothing more than sign a guy who might have some baggage accrued well before he arrives on campus. But the game has only begun.
No. 5: The Coach Who Signs on For Controversy
|Rick Stansbury has lured many players to Starkville from seemingly out of nowhere.|
A couple of years ago, that coach was Tim Floyd, who landed Sidney's predecessor in the youth basketball entitlement era, O.J. Mayo. After one year at USC, Mayo left behind an ongoing NCAA investigation and zero NCAA tournament wins.
Now, Rick Stansbury has stepped into the kitchen by signing Sidney. Stansbury has never been charged with or found guilty of any NCAA violations in 10 years on the job in Starkville -- but he has rankled his peers on occasion by swooping in seemingly out of left field to sign players.
State certainly came out of left field here, and in doing so, Stansbury has assured himself of heightened NCAA scrutiny. It will start the minute Sidney arrives on campus, if not earlier. The eligibility dance alone will be fascinating.
State compliance director Bracky Brett (a classic SEC name) told the Times, "It's going to be an interesting couple of weeks. Or months."
If Sidney ultimately is ruled ineligible -- well, the Bulldogs took a chance on a potential program-changing recruit and will move on. State is the type of program that must take a few chances to compete at the highest level. If Sidney is eligible and keeps his weight under control, State could be a national contender.
And there is the added intrigue of State pursuing another big man with baggage, John Riek. He also could be facing a long and complicated eligibility fight.
But that's another stop on the tour of recruiting hell, for another day. The Renardo Sidney tour is devilish enough for now.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com.